Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Some prayer requests

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First, pray for this little boy in our parish named Julio who was just diagnosed with a brain tumor.

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Second, blessed Charles Stuart, King and martyr, pray for us at St Alban's that we may have courage of conviction and remain faithful together as a parish. Help us to remember that what we believe was handed down to us from Christ through the apostles.

Monday, January 28, 2008

"And bless, O Lord, this abortion clinic . . . "

Christian clergy gathered in a special ceremony to bless an abortion clinic in Schenectady. "On sacred ground," they say (not talking about the miracle of life, but the right to end it). It's enough to make you sick.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Parish Meeting and further study

Today we had our Annual Parish Meeting at St Alban's. I'm sure not everyone will be happy (of course, not everyone was happy before the meeting either), but I think it was a good one. People were patient and seemed respectful of each other.

Someone suggested the Epistle for today would be a good text for ongoing reflection and study by the congregation. I think he particularly had in mind the first verse:

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions [Greek—schismata] among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

It is one thing to avoid divisions, but coming to one mind is the further goal. It will not happen overnight, and it will not happen if there is no attempt to come to one mind. Our parish purpose statement would seem to need that kind of unity as a part of fulfilling our goal:

"The purpose of Saint Alban’s Episcopal Church is to provide a joyous, loving, caring community of Christian worship and fellowship that makes Christ known through active response to the Gospel, for the spreading of God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven."

In that respect, our Old Testament lesson is particularly poignant:

"Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" (Amos 3:3)

The Gospel for today also relates to this theme of an inner turning toward God preceding an outward turning toward the world in mission:

"'The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.' From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.' As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 'Come, follow me,' Jesus said, 'and I will make you fishers of men.' At once they left their nets and followed him." (Matthew 4:16-20)

Some have tried to focus on mission as a way of avoiding coming to a common mind on basic beliefs. The problem is that the outer work becomes hollow if there is no inner strength of solidarity in the truth.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Keeping the Faith

Check out this wonderful photo essay from the Baltimore Sun at the Maryland convent of the All Saints' Sisters of the Poor. They are an order of nuns in the Episcopal Church who host retreats at their convent. I have not yet had the opportunity to go, but maybe some day. Unlike some Anglican orders (like the Cowley Fathers and the more recent Julian Order) who have made compromises with the faith over recent decades, this order of nuns are among those who have remained both traditional and orthodox. The former chaplain, Fr Ed Schmidt, would visit Nashotah House in the Fall and Spring every year as resident spiritual director while I was in seminary, and it was always a pleasure to have him there. I felt like he brought the love and community of the nuns and sisters with him.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Benedict XVI on the sacred in worship

Here is an edifying quote on worship from future pope Josef Cardinal Ratzinger in 1988:

I confine myself to coming straight to this conclusion: we ought to get back the dimension of the sacred in the liturgy. The liturgy is not a festivity; it is not a meeting for the purpose of having a good time. It is of no importance that the parish priest has cudgeled his brains to come up with suggestive ideas or imaginative novelties.

The liturgy is what makes the Thrice-holy God present amongst us; it is the burning bush; it is the alliance of God with man in Jesus Christ, who has died and risen again. The grandeur of the liturgy does not rest upon the fact that it offers an interesting entertainment, but in rendering tangible the totally Other, whom we are not capable of summoning. He comes because He wills. In other words, the essential in the liturgy is the mystery, which is realized in the common ritual of the Church; all the rest diminishes it. Men experiment with it in lively fashion, and find themselves deceived, when the mystery is transformed into distraction, when the chief actor in the liturgy is not the living God but the priest or the liturgical director.

Source: New Liturgical Movement

Baptism: fitting to fulfill all righteousness

Several people have asked me to post this sermon (Epiphany I, Year A) I recently preached at St Alban's, Arlington TX. The text is below. Click here to listen online.

Epiphany is about revelations and discoveries; it is about manifestations and unveilings; it is about vision and understanding.

On the feast of Epiphany, the magi have arrived to offer their royal gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the newborn king. The holy family has none of the trappings of royalty, but it is by the sign of a heavenly light, and their discernment possible through inner light, that they see the hidden glory of the Christ child by faith.

That glory is next witnessed when it is manifested at the Baptism of our Lord, which we commemorate on the first Sunday after the Epiphany. John the Baptist was preaching and baptizing in the wilderness of Judea. The crowds came to hear his strong rebuke of their sins. He cried, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” He in strong terms, but he was also one who spoke to the heart. He named names, and humbly called others into accountability. When the people heard this, many were moved by God’s spirit and convicted of their sinfulness and their need for God’s mercy. By droves, they came down into the Jordan river to be baptized. This was the river that Joshua had led the people of Israel to cross when entering into the Promised Land. It was a way of beginning again.

The Jewish tradition has many forms of ritual washings. Baptism for the Jews was a washing of ritual conversion. John the Baptist said this washing was also to be a baptism of repentance. In Hebrew, repentance means to turn around and go the opposite direction. In Greek, it means to change your mind in a profound way. Repentance is the kind of change that leads to a whole new outlook on life, and a new way of living.

To walk down into the Jordan river to be baptized meant that someone was saying, "It is time for my life to be turned around. I see the sin that clings to my soul, and it is time to change. I want to come back to God. I have had an Epiphany—a clear vision of how I look in God’s light. And I can see that I am in need of God’s mercy. I am coming to say that I need to be washed clean. I need to be made pure. I need God’s mercies poured out like a river."

And one day, Jesus is among them. John’s message is very similar to the message Jesus will preach—“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” We would not be at all surprised to see Jesus among the crowd—ministering to their needs, encouraging others to turn to God for mercy.

But Jesus does more. He walks down into the river. Jesus goes up to John to be baptized. John is astonished. He knows that Jesus is truly righteous in God’s sight. Jesus has no need to turn his life around. Jesus has no need of repentance. His entire will has been submitted to his heavenly Father. We are even told that John deliberately tried to stop him. He says to Jesus, “I’m the one who should be baptized by you. And yet you come to be baptized by me?” Jesus doesn’t try to explain it all or make him understand; he simply asks for an exception. Jesus says, “It is fitting. You may not understand it now, but it is the right thing to do. It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness."

What John and others would come to discover is that it is through Jesus’ baptism that this ritual was to become the way of righteousness. Jesus would later tell Nicodemus, in a moment of tender counsel, “You must be born again. . . . Very truly I tell you, unless you are born of water and the Spirit, you cannot enter the kingdom of God.”

In a spirit of humble obedience, John baptized Jesus. The heavens were open, and God manifested his will for redemption. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form—as a dove. The voice of the Father came from heaven: “This is my beloved Son”

In this, Jesus was anointed as the Messiah, was commissioned in his earthly ministry, and was revealed to be the redeemer of the world. This was the final divine wonder revealing redemption through water, foreshadowing the institution we know as baptism. Jesus transformed ordinary things and common rituals by making them sacramental vehicles of God’s grace and inner transformation. Jesus took a ceremonial washing, anointing with oil, the laying on of hands, and a meal of bread and wine and transformed them into signs of God's power at work in us.

The baptism of John was not the same as the sacrament of baptism we know now in the Church. The baptism of John was a ritual washing—a sign of repentance, but there was no transformation by the Holy Spirit. The people would come to be baptized as a public sign to show their desire to be clean and holy before God. Jesus sanctified John’s baptism of repentance (he "baptized baptism"), making it a "washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit," according to St Paul’s letter to Titus.

It is through the water of Christ’s institution of Holy Baptism that we partake of Christ’s burial and resurrection, and are reborn through the Holy Spirit. Baptism acts a symbol of death and rebirth. St Peter compares baptism to the floodwaters who “were saved through water” (1 Pet 3:20). Of course, the floodwaters are what drowned the wicked people of the world,

The Greek word for baptize (baptizo), means to immerse or plunge, the same word used to describe the sinking of a ship. It is through being let down into the water that we “were buried with him in baptism . . . so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Col 2:12)

This new life, a new beginning comes when our sins are washed away and we become an adopted child of God, part of God’s family. The baptized Christian is united to Jesus as the head of the Church. This incorporation means that we are made a part of the Mystical Body of Christ, which is his holy Catholic Church.

St Paul captured this type of community by writing, “We, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members of one another.” He also wrote, “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.”

No matter how disastrous the life of sin may have been, this is remitted in baptism. Isaiah says “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” The soul is purified by grace and given the righteous merits of Christ. St Jerome said, “All sins are forgiven in baptism.”

While all of the guilt of sin is washed away in baptism, that does not mean that when we look back at the mistakes we have made in the past, we will not feel guilty. The good news is that those feelings of guilt are counterbalanced with the faith that Jesus has takes those sins to the cross.

A person must come to Christ in faith and repentance to be baptized, for he alone is the gateway to eternal life. One must deny himself and any trust in his own merits, trusting instead in the merits and atonement of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. At such point, he is ready to be baptized, to exist “in Christ.”

So often, we tend to see baptism as the end of the conversion rode for adults. We expend all our energy trying to get them to come to church, to convince them of the Christian gospel, to get them to commit to following Christ, and their baptism is the crowning celebration of our effort.

But this is not what baptism is all about. Baptism is not an end to conversion, but a beginning. It was at his baptism that Jesus began his public ministry. The declaration of Jesus’ sonship from above was not the gold watch for a job well done, it was a description of Jesus’ role in the world, of how he would serve God and man as Son and Savior.

Living “in Christ,” as St Paul so often puts it, is to live in a baptismal life. It is a life of endless renewal. Jesus does not satisfy our temporary thirst; he puts in us a well from which spring up the waters of eternal life. God can take ordinary people like you and I and transform us. And he can make us agents of transformation for others in need of mercy. As he promised to the woman at the well, Jesus can give you that well of water on the inside, always springing up fresh waters of God’s graces.

Let us then resolve to turn to those waters and drink day by day. Let us commit ourselves anew to being active and faithful members of Christ’ mystical Body on earth—the Catholic Church. And let us encourage others to meet Jesus in the Jordan River. Amen.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Who can be saved?

In response to the question, "Is belief in Jesus the only way to get to heaven?" Presiding Bishop Katharine Jeffert Schori commented in an interview in the July 17, 2006 issue of Time magazine about the role of Jesus in salvation:

“We who practice the Christian tradition understand him as our vehicle to the divine. But for us to assume that God could not act in other ways is, I think, to put God in an awfully small box.”

Her statement remains a subject of controversy. Fr Fred Barber at Trinity Church, Fort Worth did a good job recently of trying to defend it (see "The Way to the Father: The Word" in the January 2008 Parish Paper). I think the problem in his analysis was in sometimes confusing the issue with the question about the role of the Church in salvation. However, Schori was asked about the role of Jesus in salvation. Ironically, Barber goes to great length to defend the indispensable role of Jesus (i.e., "the Word") in salvation, while Schori says that puts God in "an awfully small box." And while they are closely related questions, there are careful distinctions. Of course, it is possible that Schori also confused the same two issues in her answer.

I think there is a problem with Fr Barber's distinction between the pre-incarnate, incarnate, and what we might call his description of the "post-incarnate" Word. Furthermore, his reasoning makes sense about salvation through the Word before the incarnation (before the Word was made flesh), but not after. Barber writes, "In Jesus the WORD becomes flesh, but the WORD had been before, and will be after the fleshly Jesus." But is that the case? Not in classical Christian theology. You can no longer draw a distinction between the Word and the incarnate Christ. The Chalcedonian definition expresses it as the human and divine natures being forever joined "without confusion, without change, without division, without separation" in the one person of Jesus Christ (BCP, 864).

On that question of salvation apart from the Church, Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ, professor at Fordham Univerity (and son of the house, Nashotah D.D. class of '96) has an excellent paper on the subject in the February 2008 issue of First Things. His essay, worthy of careful study, is titled "Who can be saved?" Fr Dulles begins with the faith assumption that Jesus is Savior and Lord, the one Mediator between God and man, and examines how the question of the salvation of those who have not known the gospel of Jesus as Savior and Lord has been treated in Christian history. Here are some highlights (emphases mine):

Nothing is more striking in the New Testament than the confidence with which it proclaims the saving power of belief in Christ. . . . Paul is the outstanding herald of salvation through faith. To the Romans he writes, “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Rom. 10:9). Faith, for him, is inseparable from baptism, the sacrament of faith. . . .

The Book of Acts shows the apostles preaching faith in Christ as the way to salvation. Those who believe the testimony of Peter on the first Pentecost ask him what they must do to be saved. He replies that they must be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and thereby save themselves from the present crooked generation (Acts 2:37-40). When Peter and John are asked by the Jewish religious authorities by what authority they are preaching and performing miracles, they reply that they are acting in the name of Jesus Christ and that “there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). . . . From these and many other texts, I draw the conclusion that, according to the primary Christian documents, salvation comes through personal faith in Jesus Christ, followed and signified by sacramental baptism. The New Testament is almost silent about the eternal fate of those to whom the gospel has not been preached. . . .

Christian theologians, however, soon had to face the question whether anyone could be saved without Christian faith. They did not give a wholly negative answer. They agreed that the patriarchs and prophets of Israel, because they looked forward in faith and hope to the Savior, could be saved by adhering in advance to him who was to come. The apologists of the second and third centuries made similar concessions with regard to certain Greek philosophers. The prologue to John’s gospel taught that the eternal Word enlightens all men who come into the world. . . .

The saving grace of which these theologians were speaking, however, was given only to pagans who lived before the time of Christ. It was given by the Word of God who was to become incarnate in Jesus Christ. There was no doctrine that pagans could be saved since the promulgation of the gospel without embracing the Christian faith. Origen and Cyprian, in the third century, formulated the maxim that has come down to us in the words Extra ecclesiam nulla salus
Outside the Church, no salvation.” They spoke these words with heretics and schismatics primarily in view, but they do not appear to have been any more optimistic about the prospects of salvation for pagans. Assuming that the gospel had been promulgated everywhere, writers of the high patristic age considered that, in the Christian era, Christians alone could be saved. . . . In the West, following Ambrose and others, Augustine taught that, because faith comes by hearing, those who had never heard the gospel would be denied salvation. . . .

On one point the medieval theologians diverged from rigid Augustinianism. On the basis of certain passages in the New Testament, they held that God seriously wills that all may be saved. They could cite the statement of Peter before the household of Cornelius: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35). . . . If faith in Christ was necessary for salvation, how could salvation be within reach of those who had no opportunity to learn about Christ? . . .

Luther, Calvin, and the Jansenists professed the strict Augustinian doctrine that God did not will to save everyone, but the majority of Catholic theologians rejected the idea that God had consigned all these unevangelized persons to hell without giving them any possibility of salvation. A series of theologians proposed more hopeful theories that they took to be compatible with Scripture and Catholic tradition. The Dominican Melchior Cano argued that these populations were in a situation no different from that of the pre-Christian pagans praised by Justin and others. They could be justified in this life (but not saved in the life to come) by implicit faith in the Christian mysteries. Another Dominican, Domingo de Soto, went further, holding that, for the unevangelized, implicit faith in Christ would be sufficient for salvation itself. . . .

The Jesuit Francisco Suarez, following these pioneers, argued for the sufficiency of implicit faith in the Trinity and the Incarnation, together with an implicit desire for baptism on the part of the unevangelized. Juan de Lugo agreed, but he added that such persons could not be saved if they had committed serious sins, unless they obtained forgiveness by an act of perfect contrition.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the Jesuits of the Gregorian University followed in the tradition of Suarez and de Lugo, with certain modifications. Pope Pius IX incorporated some of their ideas in two important statements in 1854 and 1863. In the first, he said that, while no one can be saved outside the Church, God would not punish people for their ignorance of the true faith if their ignorance was invincible. In the second statement, Pius went further. He declared that persons invincibly ignorant of the Christian religion who observed the natural law and were ready to obey God would be able to attain eternal life, thanks to the workings of divine grace within them. In the same letter, the pope reaffirmed that no one could be saved outside the Catholic Church. He did not explain in what sense such persons were, or would come to be, in the Church. He could have meant that they would receive the further grace needed to join the Church, but nothing in his language suggests this. More probably he thought that such persons would be joined to the Church by implicit desire, as some theologians were teaching by his time.

In 1943, Pius XII did take this further step. In his encyclical on the Mystical Body, Mystici Corporis, he distinguished between two ways of belonging to the Church: in actual fact (in re) or by desire (in voto). Those who belonged in voto, however, were not really members. They were ordered to the Church by the dynamism of grace itself, which related them to the Church in such a way that they were in some sense in it. The two kinds of relationship, however, were not equally conducive to salvation. Those adhering to the Church by desire could not have a sure hope of salvation because they lacked many spiritual gifts and helps available only to those visibly incorporated in the true Church. . . .

The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on the Church and its Decree on Ecumenism, made some significant departures from the teaching of Pius XII. It avoided the term member and said nothing of an unconscious desire for incorporation in the Church. It taught that the Catholic Church was the all-embracing organ of salvation and was equipped with the fullness of means of salvation. Other Christian churches and communities possessed certain elements of sanctification and truth that were, however, derived from the one Church of Christ that subsists in the Catholic Church today. For this reason, God could use them as instruments of salvation. God had, however, made the Catholic Church necessary for salvation, and all who were aware of this had a serious obligation to enter the Church in order to be saved. God uses the Catholic Church not only for the redemption of her own members but also as an instrument for the redemption of all. Her witness and prayers, together with the eucharistic sacrifice, have an efficacy that goes out to the whole world.

In several important texts, Vatican II took up the question of the salvation of non-Christians. Although they were related to the Church in various ways, they were not incorporated in her. God’s universal salvific will, it taught, means that he gives non-Christians, including even atheists, sufficient help to be saved. Whoever sincerely seeks God and, with his grace, follows the dictates of conscience is on the path to salvation. The Holy Spirit, in a manner known only to God, makes it possible for each and every person to be associated with the Paschal mystery. “God, in ways known to himself, can lead those inculpably ignorant of the gospel to that faith without which it is impossible to please him.” The council did not indicate whether it is necessary for salvation to come to explicit Christian faith before death, but the texts give the impression that implicit faith may suffice. . . .

In 2000, toward the end of John Paul’s pontificate, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued the declaration Dominus Iesus, which emphatically taught that all grace and salvation must come through Jesus Christ, the one mediator. Wisely, in my opinion, the popes and councils have avoided talk about implicit faith, a term that is vague and ambiguous. They do speak of persons who are sincerely seeking for the truth and of others who have found it in Christ. They make it clear that sufficient grace is offered to all and that God will not turn away those who do everything within their power to find God and live according to his law. We may count on him to lead such persons to the faith needed for salvation.

One of the most interesting developments in post-conciliar theology has been Karl Rahner’s idea of “anonymous Christians.” He taught that God offers his grace to everyone and reveals himself in the interior offer of grace. Grace, moreover, is always mediated through Christ and tends to bring its recipients into union with him. Those who accept and live by the grace offered to them, even though they have never heard of Christ and the gospel, may be called anonymous Christians.

Although Rahner denied that his theory undermined the importance of missionary activity, it was widely understood as depriving missions of their salvific importance. Some readers of his works understood him as teaching that the unevangelized could possess the whole of Christianity except the name. Saving faith, thus understood, would be a subjective attitude without any specifiable content. In that case, the message of the gospel would have little to do with salvation. . . .

We may conclude with certitude that God makes it possible for the unevangelized to attain the goal of their searching. How that happens is known to God alone, as Vatican II twice declares. We know only that their search is not in vain. “Seek, and you will find,” says the Lord (Matt. 7:7). If non-Christians are praying to an unknown God, it may be for us to help them find the one they worship in ignorance. God wants everyone to come to the truth. Perhaps some will reach the goal of their searching only at the moment of death. Who knows what transpires secretly in their consciousness at that solemn moment? We have no evidence that death is a moment of revelation, but it could be, especially for those in pursuit of the truth of God.

Meanwhile, it is the responsibility of believers to help these seekers by word and by example. Whoever receives the gift of revealed truth has the obligation to share it with others. Christian faith is normally transmitted by testimony. Believers are called to be God’s witnesses to the ends of the earth.

Who, then, can be saved? Catholics can be saved if they believe the Word of God as taught by the Church and if they obey the commandments. Other Christians can be saved if they submit their lives to Christ and join the community where they think he wills to be found. Jews can be saved if they look forward in hope to the Messiah and try to ascertain whether God’s promise has been fulfilled. Adherents of other religions can be saved if, with the help of grace, they sincerely seek God and strive to do his will. Even atheists can be saved if they worship God under some other name and place their lives at the service of truth and justice. God’s saving grace, channeled through Christ the one Mediator, leaves no one unassisted. But that same grace brings obligations to all who receive it. They must not receive the grace of God in vain. Much will be demanded of those to whom much is given.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Frequently Asked Questions on the Apocrypha

What is the Apocrypha?
"The Apocrypha is a collection of additional books written by people of the Old Covenant, and used in the Christian Church" (BCP, 853). The name means “hidden” works. They are the extra books (and parts) of the Greek Septuagint which are not found in the Hebrew Bible.

Are the Apocrypha known by any other name?
Yes, the Apocrypha are called the deuterocanonical books by Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, as they are only found in the “second canon” of the Greek Bible, which was accepted later. This term has also become more common among Anglicans and Protestants. Correspondingly, the books which are only in the Hebrew Bible are called protocanonical, for they belong to the “first canon.”

What are the Pseudepigrapha?
These are writings of the Old and New Testament era that are not considered canonical by anyone. The name means “false” (pseudes) “inscriptions” (epigraphe). They may be thought of as the legend and lore which grew up about ancient biblical characters. These include non-canonical gospels and Jewish writings about Moses and the books of Jubilees and of Enoch (though the Book of Enoch is quoted in a scriptural way in the Jude 1:14-15). In the past, Roman Catholics often used the term “apocrypha” for the pseudepigrapha.

How do the Catholic churches view their authority?
The Apocrypha were regarded as fully canonical among Western Christians with their acceptance by Augustine of Hippo (through Origen, Athanasius, and Jerome voiced some reservations). Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox continue to fully accept them today, though the distinction between “protocanonical” and “deuterocanonical” is maintained. Anglicans fully accept them as a part of the Bible and read them in church (including the acclamation “The Word of the Lord” following readings from the Apocrypha). Indeed, the RSV translation of the Apocrypha was prompted by the request of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. However, because they are disputed books, the reservation of Jerome is followed that the Church reads them “for example of life, and instruction of manner; but yet it doth not apply them to establish any doctrine” (Article VI).

How do the Protestant churches view their authority?
Lutherans and Zurich Reformed churches have a view similar to the Anglicans, finding them useful for morals and using them in the Daily Office, but claim that the Apocrypha contains some false doctrine (2 Maccabees was a part of the Reformation dispute about purgatory). Calvinists and other Protestants do not consider these books to properly belong to the Bible and all. They should not be printed in Bibles and are not worth study as they may lead to confusion and false teaching. The Westminster Confession (1648) stated: “The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon of Scripture; and therefore of no authority in the Church of God, nor to be otherwise approved, or made use of, than any other human writings.”

What books are in the Apocrypha?
The Apocrypha include 1 Esdras, 2 Esdras, Tobit, Judith, Additions to Esther, Wisdom of Solomon, Sirach (aka Ecclesiasticus), Baruch (and the last chapter, the “Letter of Jeremiah”), Additions to Daniel (the Prayer of Azariah, the Song of the Three Young Men, the story of Susanna, Bel, and the Dragon), 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and the Prayer of Manasseh. All of these are in the Old Latin translation, and all except for 2 Esdras are in the Greek Septuagint. Eastern Orthodox bibles also include 3 and 4 Maccabees and Psalm 151.

Is the Apocrypha used in the Daily Office in the Episcopal Church?
Yes. The Morning Prayer canticles Benedictus, es, Domine and Benedicte, omnia opera Domini both come from the Song of the Three Young Men. Also, much of the Prayer of Manasseh is used as the canticle Kyrie Pantokrator. Verses from the Apocrypha are among the supplemental sentences for use at the Daily Office. And the Daily Office lectionary includes the following readings from the Apocrypha:
Wisdom 1:1—19:22 (Easter 4—5, Year 1)
Wisdom 1:16—2:1,12-22 (Good Friday, Year 1)
Wisdom 3:1-9 (Eve of All Saints’ Day)
Wisdom 4:7-15 (Stephen)
Wisdom 5:1-5,14-16 (All Saints’ Day)
Wisdom 7:3-14 (Christmas 2, Year 2)
Wisdom 9:1-12 (Annunciation of Our Lady)
Sirach 1-51 (Proper 23-27, Year 2)
Sirach 2:1-11 (Mark the Evangelist)
Sirach 3:3-9,14-17 (Christmas 2, Year 1)
Sirach 10:1-8,12-18 (Independence Day)
Sirach 31:3-11 (Barnabas)
Sirach 39:1-10 (Conversion of Paul)
Sirach 42:15—43:33 (Eve and Trinity Sunday, Year 1, Year 2)

How is the Apocrypha used in the Holy Eucharist?
Historically, verses from the Apocrypha have been used in the minor propers. In the 1979 revision of the Eucharistic Lectionary, readings from the Old Testament (including the Apocrypha) were added. Readings from the Apocrypha include:
Tobit 8:5b-8 (Matrimony)
Tobit 12:6b-9 (Elizabeth of Hungary)
Judith 9:1,11-14 (Mary Magdalene)
Wisdom 1:16-2:1,6-12 (Proper 20, Year B)
Wisdom 2:1,12-24 (Good Friday)
Wisdom 3:1-9 (Louis of France, Requiems)
Wisdom 3:1-5,9 (Burial of the Dead)
Wisdom 6:1-3,9-12,24-25 (Alfred the Great)
Wisdom 7:7-14 (Thomas Aquinas, Gregory of Nazianzus, Joseph Butler)
Wisdom 7:15-22 (Venerable Bede)
Wisdom 7:24—8:1 (John Donne)
Wisdom 7:24-28 (Gregory the Great)
Wisdom 12:13,12-24 (Friday of Lent 4)
Wisdom 12:13,16:19 (Proper 11, Year A)
Sirach 2:(1-6)7-11 (All Saints’ Day II)
Sirach 2:7-11,16-18 (Ambrose of Milan)
Sirach 10:(7-11)12-18 (Proper 17, Year C)
Sirach 15:11-20 (Epiphany 6, Year A)
Sirach 27:30—28:7 (Proper 19, Year A)
Sirach 38:1-4,6-10,12-14 (Luke the Evangelist)
Sirach 38:27-32 (Rogation Days II, Labor Day)
Sirach 39:1-10 (Bernard of Clairveaux)
Sirach 39:1-9 (Alcuin, Sergius)
Sirach 39:1-8 (Ordination of a Deacon)
Sirach 43:1-22 (New Year’s Eve)
Sirach 44:1-10,13-14 (All Saints’ Day I)
Sirach 44:I-7 (Dunstan)
Sirach 47:8-10 (Cyril of Jerusalem)
Sirach 51:1-12 (Common of a Martyr II)
Baruch 4:36—5:9 (Advent Lessons & Carols)
Baruch 5:1-9 (Advent 2)
Song of the Three Young Men 2-4,11-20a (Tuesday in Lent 3)
Susanna I-9,I5-29,34-62 (Monday in Lent 5)
Susanna 41-62 (Monday in Lent 5)
1 Maccabees 2:49-64 (Vigil for All Saints’ Day)
2 Maccabees 6:l-2;7:l-23 (Vigil for All Saints’ Day)
2 Esdras 2:42-48 (Fabian, Common of a Martyr I)

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Apocrypha in the 1611 King James Version

As most people who are familiar with the Apocrypha know, the Authorized King James Version of the Bible includes a translation of the Apocrypha. However, I was surprised to read the other day in my Interpreter's Bible commentary that it in the original 1611 edition, the Apocrypha was placed within the Old Testament in its original "catholic" order, as found in the Septuagint and Vulgate.

My commentary noted that this was also the case in the authorized English bibles which preceded the KJV--the Great Bible and the Bishop's Bible. It explained that around 1629 the Apocrypha was pulled out from its Septuagint order and placed in its own section between the testaments, as is commonly done today in non-Roman Catholic translations. I had not heard this anywhere before, nor can I confirm it in another source. Anyone out there have any insight to share?

Also, as the Geneva Bible waned in popularity and the "protestants" in England began using the KJV, there was an increasing objection to its presence (for it had not been printed in the Geneva Bible). Accordingly, after much debate, the British and American Bible Societies stopped printing the Apocrypha in the editions they distributed in 1827. Thereafter, most publishers began to omit the Apocrypha in KJV Bibles (except in "pulpit editions"), especially outside England.

Please join me this Spring at St Alban's for a study of the Apocrypha in our Sunday School class meeting in Room 10 at 9:15am.

Update: Here is the quote from the Interpreter's Bible commentary (Vol. 1, p. 396, emphasis mine):

All English editions of the Bible prior to 1629 contained the Apocrypha, either with the canonical books or relegated to an appendix: "Thomas Matthew" (1537, in which the Prayer of Manasses appeared for the first time in English ), the Great Bible (1539), the Geneva Bible (1560, in which for the first time in English some of the Apocrypha were translated from the Greek instead of the Latin), the Bishop's Bible (1568), and the King James or Authorized Version (1611, made from the Hebrew and Greek, in which the the Apocrypha are scattered among the canonical books). But as early as 1629 the Apocrypha were omitted in some editions of the English Bible and, following some bitter controversies, the British and Foreign Bible Society has excluded them since 1827 from all printings of the Bible (except some pulpit Bibles).

Friday, January 11, 2008

Stopping the spin or spilling the beans?

I noticed tonight that the third paragraph in the article "San Joaquin's remaining Episcopalians to gather for reconciliation, inclusion, celebration" from Episcopal News Service/Episcopal Life reads:

Former Bishop John-David Schofield had urged the realignment, approved by 42 of the diocese's 47 congregations. Clergy approved the split 70-12 and laity voted 103-10 for realignment.

Or, at least that's how it used to read when first published and blogged about over at TitusOneNine. Note the word former when describing Bishop Schofield. That's not how it appears now on the ENS website. The operative word has been edited out. Now you'll see:

Bishop John-David Schofield had urged the realignment, approved by 42 of the diocese's 47 congregations. Clergy approved the split 70-12 and laity voted 103-10 for realignment.

At first I thought it might be a case of Episcopal Life stopping the spin in their articles (or at least backing off just a hair). My hallmate at seminary, Scott Albergate, didn't call it Pravda for nothing. But now it looks like it might have been more of a case of wishful thinking, or even spilling the beans for what was going to come next. That article was followed by this story a few hours later. There we read:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori on January 11 inhibited Diocese of San Joaquin Bishop John-David Schofield.

In the text of the inhibition, Jefferts Schori wrote: "I hereby inhibit the said Bishop Schofield and order that from and after 5:00 p.m. PST, Friday, January 11, 2008, he cease from exercising the gifts of ordination in the ordained ministry of this Church; and pursuant to Canon IV.15, I order him from and after that time to cease all 'episcopal, ministerial, and canonical acts, except as relate to the administration of the temporal affairs of the Diocese of San Joaquin,' until this Inhibition is terminated pursuant to Canon IV.9(2) or superseded by decision of the House of Bishops."

Jefferts Schori acted after the Title IV Review Committee certified that Schofield had abandoned the communion of the Episcopal Church.

Of course, the inhibition does not mean that Schofield is now the former Bishop of San Joaquin. It's too early to make that pronouncement, but that process may very well run its full course. The problem with the next stage (if he is deposed) is that there can be no new bishop because there will not be the minimum number of six parishes to constitute a TEC diocese of San Joaquin. Unless of course, they take those few congregations and split them into very small church plants. But then, there would probably not be the financial recourses to have a diocese anyway.

The Diocese of San Joaquin immediately responded to the inhibition in a press release, which concluded this insightful comment:
"The Episcopal Church's own identity is dependent upon its relationship with the whole Anglican Communion. TEC should consider whether it is imperiling that relationship by taking such punitive actions."

TEC should consider whether it is imperiling that relationship by taking such punitive actions.

Another oddity is that Schori is saying that Schofield has abandoned the communion by leading the diocese out of TEC while also saying that diocese cannot secede anyway. Which is it? And how can you discipline a bishop for leaving your jurisdiction if you no longer have jurisdiction over that bishop? Another important detail to watch for was pointed out by a commenter at Stand Firm: "Rowan Williams now has a decision he cannot finesse: does Schofield go to Lambeth?"

Thursday, January 10, 2008

What's your theological worldview?

What's your theological worldview?
created with
You scored as Roman Catholic

You are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is Mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.

Roman Catholic


Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan


Neo orthodox








Reformed Evangelical


Classical Liberal


Modern Liberal


Take the quiz. These are my results above. It seems about right to me. I would expect "Roman Catholic" at the top since there is no Anglican/Episcopal category (nor even Orthodox, for that matter). I was somewhat surprised by Wesleyan being number two. I guess that comes from my answers that value spiritual growth and holiness, which was the focus of the Methodist revival in the Church of England.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

One of my favorite Python sketches--Camelot

Complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions

In today's Daily Office readings, there is following the curious verse:

Colossians 1:24
"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church."

It seems so out of place coming from St Paul who lays great stress on the supreme sufficiency of the atoning suffering and death of Jesus Christ, i.e., that nothing is lacking. The Amplified Bible adds a little more softening detail: "In my own person I am making up whatever is still lacking and remains to be completed [on our part] of Christ's afflictions." In contrast, the Rheims New Testament puts it a little more abrasively, where Paul says, "I fill up those things that are wanting of the sufferings of Christ."

I think some depth of understanding can be found in the New Jerusalem Bible, which reads, "It makes me happy to be suffering for you now, and in my own body to make up all the hardships that still have to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body, the Church." The note on this verse explains, "Jesus suffered in order to establish the reign of God, and anyone who continues his work must share this suffering. Paul is not claiming to add anything to the redemptive value of the cross (to which nothing is lacking); but he associates himself with the trials of Jesus, by his suffering in his apostolate, see 2 Co 1:5; Ph 1:20i. These are the sufferings predicted for the messianic era, Mt 24:8; Ac 14:22m; 1 Tm 4:1a, and are all part of the way in which God had always intended the Church to develop; Paul feels that, being the messenger Christ has chosen to send to the gentiles, he has been especially called to complete these sufferings."

What is "lacking" in the sufferings of Christ? It is not his sufferings, but our share in them. I would say that the main point is that since Christ suffered, all suffering has a special dignity and redemptive meaning. Thus, his own sufferings being Paul joy because he feels that his sufferings draw him closer to Christ. We know from mere human experience that those who share some affliction often share a special communion. I'll let Pope John Paul II have the last comment on that, since he talked about it so movingly in his encyclical The Gospel of Life:

"Living to the Lord also means recognizing that suffering, while still an evil and a trial in itself, can always become a source of good. It becomes such if it is experienced for love and with love through sharing, by God's gracious gift and one's own personal and free choice, in the suffering of Christ Crucified. In this way, the person who lives his suffering in the Lord grows more fully conformed to him (cf. Phil 3:10; 1 Pet 2:21) and more closely associated with his redemptive work on behalf of the Church and humanity. This was the experience of Saint Paul, which every person who suffers is called to relive: 'I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his Body, that is, the Church'" (Section 67).

Monday, January 07, 2008

A syllabus of common liturgical errors

In the 1920s or so, the anglo-catholic Society of Ss Peter & Paul published in London a booklet entitled, The Manner of Celebrating High Mass: With Rules for Clergy in Quire, Manner of the Asperges, Common Errors, and Manner of Giving Communion out of Mass. It represents the finest rubricism of the period, bringing precise "tridentine" ceremonial into the Prayer Book liturgy.

On page 37, the booklet begins the list of "Errors Commonly Committed." I found it fascinating and quite helpful, having broken some of them myself at one time or another. I don't think the authors would know quite where to begin in the picture above. Here is the list.

The following mistakes in the celebration of the Communion are of somewhat frequent occurrence in certain churches, and are here set forth that they may be guarded against.

It is wrong to say the Lord's Prayer and Collect for Purity after the Introit. These prayers are part of the Preparation, and are to be said before.

It is wrong to remain turned to the people at the Epistle corner ; it is better, therefore, to say the Ten Commandments at the middle of the Altar, facing the people. If he says the Commandments only with the Ministers, he will, of course, do so at the Epistle corner, facing the book.

It is wrong to consecrate more bread and wine than is required for Communion ; the Mass is not a service of Benediction, nor of Exposition.

It is wrong to reserve the Sacrament until the end of Mass, except for the sick, or to be placed in the Tabernacle. If it is reserved on the Altar (as is commonly done when the ablutions are not taken till the end), the rules set forth for the end of the Mass on Maundy Thursday must be followed.

If, however, the ablutions are postponed till the end, even if the Blessed Sacrament has not been consumed, it is wrong to remain in the middle of the Altar after Communion : this practice destroys the whole ceremonial structure of the Liturgy, neither is it done in any circumstances, even when the Holy Sacrament is exposed over the Altar, or, as on Maundy Thursday, is openly reserved on the Altar.

If the ablutions are postponed, but the Sacrament has been consumed, it is wrong to genuflect to the empty Chalice. It is strictly forbidden by authority to genuflect to a Chalice or vessel which is exhausted but not purified, as also to refrain from turning the back on such unpurified vessel or Chalice.

If the ablutions are postponed until after the Blessing, it is wrong to say "Post-ablution" Collects after taking them. The Post-communion Collects are to be said after Communion, and not after taking ablutions after the Mass has been finished. The last Gospel should be said at once after the Blessing, and then the ablutions taken.

It is wrong to omit "The Lord be with you" and similar salutations, if "Glory be to thee, O Lord" is interpolated before the Gospel.

It is wrong to make the sign of the Cross with the Host when turning round to say "Behold the Lamb of God" before giving Communion : the Mass is not the service of Benediction.

It is wrong to whisper the Canon of the Latin rite (if it is said) and to alter the voice for that of the English.

It is wrong to forget that the prayers are said to God and not to the people, who should only hear those parts which are directed to be said in the loud voice.

It is wrong to bow the head when genuflecting.

It is wrong to wait at the Altar for the Sanctus or other singing to end before proceeding with the Liturgy.

It is wrong to sing more than the intonations of the Creed and Gloria, "The Lord be with you", "Let us pray", the Collects, Preface, Lord's Prayer and Post-communion Collects. The Blessing is not sung except by a Bishop. He should be careful, when announcing the Gospel, not to repeat the word "Gospel," nor to say "Saint "; he should say "The holy Gospel is written in the (sixth) chapter of ( John ) beginning at the ( first) verse". At the last Gospel he should say "The beginning of the holy Gospel according to John".

When the hands are laid on the Altar, they are to be placed outside the corporal before the Consecration and after the ablutions : between these times they are to be placed upon the corporal, and the thumb and forefinger of each hand are to be kept joined and not disjoined except to handle the consecrated Host.

The Celebrant, when turning to the people, should do so by his right, and back the same way, not completing the circle ; he only does this when saying "Let us pray for the whole state" etc., and at the Blessing, when he goes to the Gospel corner to say the last Gospel.

They should not put on their maniples or birettas (or folded chasubles, if used) until the Celebrant is vested.

They should give their birettas and that of the Celebrant to the Master of Ceremonies when they have entered the quire.

They should not bow, as is some times done, when the Celebrant kisses the Altar, but stand upright.

They should not move if the Celebrant says the Commandments in the middle of the Altar.

If it be the custom of the church to bow to the Altar and not to genuflect, they will always do this, except to the Blessed Sacrament: so that the Deacon will bow to the Celebrant, and not kneel, when receiving his blessing before the Gospel; and the Subdeacon will not kneel, but bow, when being blessed after singing the Epistle.

The Deacon also should take note that it is wrong to move, or to take the Gospel-book, until the Celebrant begins to read the Gospel.

It is wrong to say "Cleanse my heart" etc. before the incense is blessed; it should be said after this.

It is wrong to omit "The Lord be with you" or "Depart in peace", if "Glory be to thee, O Lord" is interpolated before the Gospel.

It is wrong to face the people when singing the Gospel unless it is sung from a pulpit, lectern, or ambone.

It is wrong for him to cense the choir, if there be no clergy in quire.

It is wrong to kneel facing the Altar when making the Confession; it should be done facing the Gospel side.

There is no object gained in omit ting the kisses, but it is wrong to give them at a Mass of the Dead.

He should be careful to announce the Gospel correctly, as is directed above for the Celebrant.

The Subdeacon should also take note that it is wrong to face the people when singing the Epistle, unless it is sung from a pulpit, lectern, or ambone.

If not wearing a humeral veil, it is wrong to stand still doing nothing; he should act as at Mass for the Dead.

It is wrong to kneel at the Confession; he should turn to face towards the Deacon.

It is wrong to kneel after the Consecration.

He should announce the Epistle thus: "The Epistle is written in the (tenth) chapter of Blessed (Paul) the Apostle (to the Romans), beginning at the ( fifth) verse".

THE THURIFER should refrain from swinging the censer more than is merely necessary to keep it alight ; he need not wave it wildly to and fro, as is sometimes done.

When Mass is sung without Deacon and Subdeacon, the Acolytes kneel in their places throughout the Mass, except at the Gospel and when they are doing something. This also applies to Low Mass, and the Server need not join in saying the Creed, Sanctus, Gloria, or Lord's Prayer in a loud voice (as is often done), but say only the responses appointed, lest he disturb the Celebrant.

The head should not be bowed when making a genuflection, but the back kept perfectly straight; and the same when kneeling, except only at the Consecration. The head should never be put on the floor.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Griswold at S Clement's, Philly

The Rt Rev'd Frank Griswold, sometime Bishop of Chicago and former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church visited S Clement's Church in Philadelphia on Gaudete Sunday 2007 for confirmation. Check out Marc Coleman's photographs of the episcopal visitation here. Our thanks to the rector and people of S Clement's for sharing the sights and sounds of their parish.

I'm sure they would have preferred a visitation by a catholic bishop. It has been awhile since Bishop Parsons was allowed back to Philadelphia, but they were blessed to have Bishop Lindsey Urwin in 2005.

While I understand that there may be some lack of congruency of matter and form here, let me point out a few things in Bp Griswold's defense:

1. He is an actual bishop.
2. He is not Bishop Bennison.
3. He has the ability to do and say the right things when surrounded by the right people.

Saturday, January 05, 2008

The holiest year of your life?


Preached at St Alban's, Arlington TX on 30 December 2007

Picture the scene—a father and son are standing out in front of a college dorm. The father is choking back the terms. The son is ready to say good-bye. Dad stops at the car before he gets in. One last hug. Then it comes. “Son, these years are going to be some of the best of your life.”

Even if we might look back on our college days with great fondness, what you and I have come to learn since, however, is that years come and go—some are good and some not as good. The difference between the two has a lot to do with how we see the world. But there is another determining factor in having a good year—whether or not we are willing to make it happen.

And so, since it is time to say goodbye to the old year, and greet the baby 2008, we stand to say goodbye to the past together and hello to the future together. One last hug may be appropriate. A tear may come to the eye. But unlike the Dad in the story, this father makes no predictions. Instead, I ask you, “Are you going to make it a good year? Is 2008 going to be one of the best years of your life?”

Now, you can’t just say, “I’ll let you know 365 days from now.” If you wait a year to decide about this, it will be one year too late. Of course, you can’t help the unexpected. You may say, “This is the year I will take up jogging.” And then you break your leg next month. You can’t help the unexpected, but that’s not what we’re talking about today. We are talking about creating expectations, planning your future, making it happen. Today, I’d like us to think about that, especially in the spiritual life, for our spiritual well-being overflows into all other areas of life.

How would you have reacted if Dad gave you a hug, and with a tear in his eye, said, “Son, this year is going to be the holiest year of your life”? That’s what I’d like us to consider today. This father is asking, “Will 2008 be the holiest year of your life?”

Right away, you might be thinking, “Wait. That’s asking too much. I’m not a priest or a nun or a monk. I’m just an ordinary person. This holiness stuff is just way out of my league.” If that’s your impression of holiness, you’ve got the wrong idea. Holiness is for beginners, and since you’re a beginner, holiness is for you. Indeed, the purpose of the Church in regards to God is to worship and glorify him in heaven and on earth. The purpose of the Church in regards to human beings is to make bad people holy—set apart for God. All of us need to be holy, for God is holy.

Jesus makes it possible for us, in the midst of our frailties to experience holiness. In our Gospel today, we read that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The Logos, or pre-existent Son of God, took human nature from the Virgin Mary his mother, lived a sinless human life, and died a human death. He shared our human nature. Then he rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and pours out his holy Spirit on us at baptism. He makes us partakers of the divine nature.

You might think, “How can I be holy; I’m only human.” St John carefully points out that Jesus maintained his holiness as a human being in the midst of a fallen world. Later in the gospel, Jesus differentiates that he is in the world, but not of the world. The Word was made flesh, but he didn’t become fleshly.

How does holiness work for beginners? Very simply—the same way. As his disciples, we are likewise to be in the world, but not of the world. That is, we should eagerly and enthusiastically be a part of everything that draws us toward God and fills us with divine love—going to Mass at least every Sunday, going to confession, receiving Holy Communion, loving our neighbors, and working and giving to build up the kingdom of God.

On the others side, we should avoid everything that draws us away from God, which is easy to discern, because it has the side effects of diminishing love and taking away the joy from the life that God wants for us. The closer we are to God (i.e., the holier we are), the more likely we are to mourn our sins and recoil at temptation. Or to put it another way, the more we rely upon God, the easier our pursuit of holiness will be.

Here I want to draw special attention to the connection between holiness and happiness. The happiest people—those truly contented with life—are often the holiest, whereas those who lack a personal holiness, are in great need of happiness. Happiness is a part of the blessed life that God wants for us. “Happy” and “blessed” are two translations of the same word.

Consider Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man [or Happy is the man] who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, nor lingered in the way of sinners, nor sat in the seat of the scornful! His delight is in the law of the LORD, and he meditates on his law day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither; everything he does prospers. It is not so with the wicked; they are like the chaff which the wind blows away.”

What stands in the way of happiness? It is the same thing that stands in the way of holiness—sin. It is usually not sadness that prevents our happiness. The sinful may be sad, but sadness is not sinful by nature. Jesus was sad at moments. He wept at the tomb of Lazarus. At Gethsemane he said, “My soul is sorrowful even unto death.”

What stands in the way of happiness is usually anger. It is not the righteous indignation we see in Jesus cleansing the temple. It is bitterness, envy, hatred, jealousy, etc. It is what made God ask the prophet Jonah in his bitterness, “Does it do you any good to be angry?”

Don’t let your past stand in the way of your future. What God wants for you is the blessed life, the happy life, the holy life. Will you let your past stand in the way of your future? I hope not.

That may sound very difficult, but don’t be intimidated. Jesus understood this. That’s why in the upper room, he explained to his chosen apostles, “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

As St John tells us in today’s gospel, “In him [that is, in Jesus—the incarnate Word] was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” For those who are faithful to Christ as Savior and Lord, there is no barrier that his grace may not overcome. There is no limit to the holiness and happiness that await you in the coming year.

If 2008 is the holiest year of your life, it will also be the most grace-filled year of your life. St John tells us that “from his fullness . . . [Jesus’ fullness of divine glory that he shares with God the Father] . . . from his fullness we have all received grace upon grace.”

Have you ever noticed that blessings build exponentially? But they come to a screeching halt when you choose sin over God. Remember: Don’t let your past stand in the way of your future. God wants us to keep his commandments, what we might otherwise call guidelines for the blessed life or the “happy and holy life.”

St John tells us, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” If you turn to him again today and begin anew, 2008 will be the holiest year of your life.