Saturday, February 25, 2012

Vicar's Voice on "religion"

Religion has gotten a bad rap—both in the world and in the church as well. I remember being part of the tradition that affirms, “Christianity is not a religion; it’s a relationship!” I must have heard that at least once a week, and I bought into it “hook, line, and sinker.”

The main sentiment that stance wants to emphasize is correct: that salvation is not based upon obeying certain arbitrary rules, but upon the grace of God, offered to us in a Savior who is Jesus Christ our Lord. But it’s a long stretch from that truth to saying that Christianity is not a religion. It is a simplistic view that “religion” can only mean “false religion,” therefore, Christianity (which is true) cannot be a religion.

I remember back one day to my internship as a VA hospital chaplain during seminary, the driver of the shuttle van from one hospital campus to another asked me, “Chaplain, isn’t it true that the Bible never uses the word religion?”

I responded, “Well, that’s not quite correct.” The driver said, “Oh false religion, sure. But, I mean, the Bible denounces religion.” I responded, “Actually, St James wrote, ‘Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world’ (1:27).”

This gave my driver pause for thought. “Well, my pastor says that Christianity is not a religion, but a relationship,” he said. I responded, “Your pastor is right about the relationship part. But don’t forget that Jesus said in John’s gospel, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (14:15), which makes it sound like that relationship is a religion.”

As C. S. Lewis said, “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because he loves us.” Of course, nothing about Christianity reeks of religion quite so much as Lent, which begins on February 22nd this year. During this time, the Church calls us to grow closer to Christ by practicing our religion through the spiritual tools of prayer, good works, and self-denial. Each of us should form a personal Lenten rule of fasting, abstinence, almsgiving, prayer, worship, and spiritual reading.

Of course, the Bible does thoroughly denounce false religion (paganism) as well as hypocrisy. We should do so as well, and look upon this as a time for self-examination and confession. We should look for false religion or false idols within ourselves. We should also look for those ways we entertain the hypocrisy which Jesus himself denounced in the way we practice our religion.

I will be available for spiritual counsel and/or sacramental confession by appointment or after Mass on Ash Wednesday. Addition scheduled times will be posted for Holy Week. This Lent, I invite you to strengthen your relationship with Christ by practicing your religion.

Let our Lenten prayer be the words of the priest, who, after putting ashes on our heads on Ash Wednesday, says: “Grant, we beseech thee, O Lord, that we, who now with prayer and fasting do put upon us the armor of our Christian warfare, being defended by the power of abstinence, may fight manfully against all spiritual wickedness; through Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Your pastor and friend,

A little vestment work

This year, I committed myself to using my Roman-purple-on-violet damask vestment set for St. Mary's in Hamilton. The reason is to force myself to complete the set. I made everything but the stole about five years ago (and bought the fabric about 12 years ago). On Fat Tuesday, I finally finished the stole.

Now I'm posting this so I'll have thrown my hat over the ring and commit to making the Roman-purple-on-rose plain damask vestment set for Laetare Sunday. I've already got the orphreys cut and ironed.

Also of interest, I came across a new eBay supplier of vestment fabrics and galloons: Liturgical Vestments. They specialize in Eastern Orthodox brocades, but may are very usuable in western vestments (especially for trim). Check them out.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

For the cure?

Yesterday, Susan G. Komen for the Cure reversed it's decision to stop grants for Planned Parenthood. Many people were fiercely opposed to supporting Komen because of their grants to Planned Parenthood. Komen noted a 100% increase in the three days after they announced the halt to future grants. It used to be that the Planned Parenthood grants were a "dirty little secret" about Komen, but now that their renewed support for Planned Parenthood has been advertised far and wide, I would expect that to hurt their fundraising.

Komen said that neither the halting of grants nor the renewal of grants was politically motivated, but that could only be spin. Of course it is. Abortion is a political football and Komen just kicked it for both teams, as it were.

But not only were the twin announcements political, surely the original support must be political too. Let's think about this for a moment. Komen says the grants are for cancer screenings, and Planned Parenthood has acknowledged that no mammograms are performed at any of their clinics. The grants are for screenings and education, which as far as I can figure is having brochures and questionnaires available, along with a "if you feel a lump, you'd better get that checked out."

Would not the money be better spent for such screenings at health clinics for the indigent or subsidies for actual mammograms? This fact, however, is the most critical: the grants go toward an organization (Planned Parenthood) whose two main services (oral contraception and abortion) strongly increase the risk for breast cancer. And that's not political?

However, Tom Peters (The American Papist) has a more nuanced view, and he's certainly more educated about the subject than I am. It seems from his take that the "reversal" more of an apology for hurt feelings, and the policy remains the same. They clarified that that the Congressional investigation of Planned Parenthood does not rise to the the level of disqualification (only a criminal investigation would). Starting next year, grant recipients will need to demonstrate that the money is used for mammograms. Unless things change before then, Planned Parenthood would not qualify.Link

The antiquity of the Western rite

"Essentially the Missal of Pius V is the Gregorian Sacramentary; that again is formed from the Gelasian book, which depends on the Leonine collection. We find the prayers of our Canon in the treatise de Sacramentis and allusions to it in the 4th century. So our Mass goes back, without essential change, to the age when it first developed out of the oldest liturgy of all. It is still redolent of that liturgy, of the days when Caesar ruled the world and thought he could stamp out the faith of Christ, when our fathers met together before dawn and sang a hymn to Christ as to a God. The final result of our inquiry is that, in spite of unsolved problems, in spite of later changes, there is not in Christendom another rite so venerable as ours." In a footnote he added: "The prejudice that imagines that everything Eastern must be old is a mistake. Eastern rites have been modified later too; some of them quite late. No Eastern Rite now used is as archaic as the Roman Mass."

--Adrian Fortscue, The Mass: A Study of the Roman Liturgy, s.l., 1912, p. 213

Thursday, February 02, 2012

A light to enlighten the nations

I have always loved Candlemas, aka the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple, aka the Purification of Our Lady, aka Groundhog Day.

I like how it overlaps Old Testament and New Testament themes. I reminds me of Hannukah, yet it is about Jesus (the new temple) coming into his own house (the old temple) to be dedicated to the Lord. Jesus and Mary are declared ritually clean again after his birth (thus Candlemas officially wraps up the Christmas season).

There are a number of contrasts. Childbirth normally defiles under the Law because of the bleeding involved, yet Mary was sanctified by the presence of the Lord within her. The temple is also sanctified by the arrival of Christ. A birth is a cause of great joy, yet Simeon tells Mary "a sword will pierce your own heart also." The old temple gives way to the new temple, which shines as a beacon of hope to a world wandering in darkness.

It was my privilege to officiate at the "Churching of Women" (aka The Thanksgiving for the Birth of a Child) for the first time two Sundays ago. Congratulations again to Sarah and Zach Robinson on the birth of their son Wiley. This service is perhaps the truest remnant of Old Testament Jewish worship and ritual that we have today.