holy cross sermon for the twenty-third sunday after pentecost, october 23, 2016

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

In today’s Gospel lesson, the Savior gives us a picture of the kind of attitude God desires.  It is, in brief, an attitude of penitence and contrition.  “God be merciful to me, a sinner.”

 I would like to challenge you to think about yourself in light of what the Lord says in today’s Gospel.  I would like for you to ask yourself who you are really like – the Pharisee, or the Tax Collector?

 This passage opens by telling us the context within which our Lord was speaking.  First of all, “He… told this parable to some who TRUSTED IN THEMSELVES that they were righteous…”

 Already we ought to feel convicted, if we’re being honest. Do we not trust in ourselves that we are righteous?  Very often I do, and I bet you do too. 

 The question naturally arises: How do you know whether you are trusting in yourself?  You know it when you fall into comfortable routines.  When you’re perfectly happy to go on the way you’ve been going on, with a kind of distant but vaguely benevolent concern for the poor and needy, and with an equally vague conviction that “I’m okay / you’re okay.”

 We might think of this kind of attitude as Christian cruise control.  And unfortunately, I would wager, this is the default setting for a lot of Christians.  But part of the point of today’s Gospel lesson is that its deadly. God hates it. And he hates it because its deadly – because if you don’t root it out, it can separate you from him forever. This kind of attitude is frankly rampant in Episcopalianism and bourgeois American culture generally, but the Lord says that this kind of attitude has the power to “destroy both soul and body in hell,” (Mat. 10.28).

 Where does this attitude come from?  Many of us are like this because we fear causing a scene, or we fear being a burden, and almost all of us fear letting anyone know what we are really like inside – we don’t want anyone to find out that we have terrible thoughts, terrible desires; that we nurse bitternesses, hatreds, resentments, lusts, and envies in our hearts; we don’t want people to know what we’ve done in the past, or what we’ve done in secret. So we keep up appearances. We build around us a wall of superficial pleasantness; we bury our bitter memories; we stifle our hatreds and our evil desires. Or sometimes, like addicts have always done, we refuse to admit even to ourselves that we have a problem. We say things like “well she deserved it,” – or we make up excuses for ourselves; we say “Well I couldn’t help it,” or “that’s just the way I am.” Or sometimes we delude ourselves about the Gospel. We tell ourselves that we’re educated, broad-minded, modern people – we tell ourselves that OUR religion matured beyond all that superstitious stuff about hellfire and eternal damnation.

 But where did we get that idea? Not from Scripture. Not from the teachings of the fathers and the saints.  Frankly, I think we just made it up somewhere along the way. But God hates it, precisely because he loves us, and he knows the truth:  he knows that all this pent up wickedness and self-delusion and superficiality can kill us forever.

 But “The tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

 That is the kind of heart, the kind of attitude, the “soulish” disposition, that God is looking for.  This Tax Collector has conquered his fear.  He’s plucked up the courage to face the truth about himself – to take an honest look into his own heart, to leave off the denial, and the self-delusion and superficiality – he’s found the courage to face his own sin, the bitterness or evil desire or malice or whatever it is: he faces it honestly, and he cries out: “God be merciful to me, a sinner!”

 Psalm 51 says Lord, “had you desired it, I would have offered sacrifice, but you take no delight in burnt-offerings.  THE SACRIFICE OF GOD IS A TROUBLED SPIRIT; A BROKEN AND CONTRITE HEART, O GOD, YOU WILL NOT DESPISE.”

 God is not interested in our burnt-offerings – he’s not interested in the games we play to appease our consciences. God desires honesty. And facing the truth demands courage. God desires the integrity it takes to look into our hearts and face the nastiness that’s in there, and to cry out for him to help us. Trusting that he is merciful – trusting in his love for us – confident that he wants more than anything for us to be free and to “be whole again, beyond confusion,” (Robert Frost). God wants us to be filled with joy and peace. He waits only for us to accept his gift of mercy. And accepting mercy means that we have to acknowledge that we NEED mercy.

 Salvation is at once very easy and very difficult.  Its easy because its free.  God is waiting for us with open arms.  His love and acceptance have no bounds, no limits, no conditions.  The difficulty is on our end.  The difficulty lies in facing the truth of our situation, of picking ourselves up, and running into God’s embrace. You can see how hard it is in how neglected is the sacrament of confession. We don’t want anyone to know what we’ve done, or what we’re capable of doing. We don’t even want to face it ourselves. Its much easier not to. Its easier to bottle up the nastiness in our hearts and burry it. Its easier to tell ourselves that we confess our sins and get absolved at the general confession at each mass. But we don’t. God is not a fairy-godmother. We don’t get magically plinked into a right disposition just because a priest waves his hands over you and says the magic words. I have sometimes lamented that the General Confession is even a part of the mass, because it creates the false impression that it is sufficient. That Christians don’t need to do the real work of facing the truth about yourself – of taking stock of what’s really in your heart, and enumerating your sins, one by one in all their hideous banality, and asking for mercy.

 Can God’s grace operate outside of the sacraments? Can he forgive you for your sins without your going to Confession? Of course he can. He’s God. But its not a question of what God can do – it’s a question of what WE can do. Can we really face our need for forgiveness without taking stock of our situation, without the difficult work of naming our sins before God, face to face, in the person of his minister, and asking for mercy?

 The Church didn’t institute Confession to gratify the priest’s salacious interest in your nastiness. Rather the Lord himself gave us confession because he knows how easy it is to trick ourselves into thinking we’re okay without it. He gave us a means of doing what must be done – of running headlong into our need for mercy.  He prescribed a time and a place and a means of saying with the Tax Collector, “God be merciful to me a sinner” – and not just saying it, but meaning it. It takes humility to go to Confession. And that’s the point. God has given us a means to humility: because he who humbles himself will be exalted.

 “But the tax collector… would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!’”

 In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

holy cross sermon for the twentieth sunday after pentecost, october 2, 2016

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

 Today’s Gospel is rather stark and short. It begins with the Lord’s well-known teaching on faith “the size of a mustard seed.”

 “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, `Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”

 Perhaps the first thing to notice is that the Lord indicts even the Apostles’ lack of faith. The mustard seed is famously tiny. Jesus seems to be saying that if you have even a little bit of real faith, you can do the seemingly impossible – you can perform miracles – do the work of God. And yet we can’t perform miracles. The impossible remains impossible to us. We may therefore infer that we do not even have a modicum of faith. And this appears true, at least at times, even of the most faithful among us. Even of the Apostles themselves.

I recently read an essay by the famous Orthodox theologian, David Bentley Hart, in which Hart talks about how an intensive, sustained, meditative reading of the New Testament changed his attitude toward what the life of faith means, what a life of faith ought to look like. The article was a pretty severe critique of contemporary Christian culture, which Hart sees as imbued now with the air of secularism – with the world’s blandishments and priorities. But the picture of authentic Christian life, the life of faith, stands in stark contrast to all of that. Hart says:

 “The Gospels, the epistles, Acts, Revelation—all of them are relentless torrents of exorbitance and extremism: commands to become as perfect as God in his heaven and to live as insouciantly as lilies in their field; condemnations of a roving eye as equivalent to adultery and of evil thoughts toward another as equivalent to murder; injunctions to sell all one’s possessions and to give the proceeds to the poor, and demands that one hate one’s parents for the Kingdom’s sake and leave the dead to bury the dead. This extremism is not merely an occasional hyperbolic presence in the texts; it is their entire cultural and spiritual atmosphere.”

 Occasionally in my preaching I exhort all of you (and myself as well) to notice and to dwell upon the troubling passages in the Gospels, the difficult sayings of Jesus – not to try and mute or qualify them, but rather to allow yourself to be disturbed. Today’s Gospel might qualify as one such passage. Jesus said:

 “If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, `Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”

 But that seems impossible. Yet Jesus is in the business of making the impossible actual. Recall his indictment of the rich in Mark’s Gospel:

 “Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!’ And the disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said to them again, ‘Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’ And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, ‘Then who can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.’”

 There, I believe, is the key. “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.” We need to remember that faith is a gift from God. It belongs to God – it is his alone to give. God gives us faith, and so enables us to live lives of faith. God makes the impossible, actual. That anything exists at all testifies to this fact. Our job is to till the soil of our hearts so that the seeds that God scatters may take root within us and grow and blossom and bear fruit.

 We know this happens because we have the testimony of the saints. Beginning perhaps with Abraham, our confession is filled with exemplars of faithfulness. Trusting God, Abraham set out to receive a patrimony from God. He saw the birth of his son, Isaac, even though Genesis says: “Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in age; [and] it had ceased to be with Sarah after the manner of women.” Yet Sarah conceived and gave birth to Isaac, who became the father of Israel, the inheritor of God’s promises.

 By faith Mary too accepted God’s invitation by the ministry of his angel, and she conceived by the Holy Ghost and brought our salvation into the world by giving birth to Jesus. And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.

 And by faith too, Jesus, Abraham’s offspring, the son of Mary, endured the agony of the cross, trusting his Father. And he rose victorious from the grave. Jesus thus shows one facet of my previous assertion that faith belongs to God. Jesus is the Son of God, and is himself God, and yet he demonstrates his faith in God when he suffers and dies on the cross. Faith belongs to him. So faith is his to give.

 Note also that in each of these three figures – Abraham, Mary, and Jesus – faith makes the impossible to be possible. And in each case, the “impossible” thing that God accomplishes has to do with bringing new life to the world. And in the ultimate case, in the resurrection of Jesus, it is not just new life, but a radically new KIND of life.

 This is the impossible that God makes possible by faith. It goes well beyond telling a sycamine tree to be planted in the sea.

 It works because faith means acquiescing to God’s will, conforming your life to it, even though you don’t fully understand it, and even though you can’t see how the outcome could possibly be good or could make you happy. The way is a way of suffering within the world, because the world and the world’s authorities stand in opposition to the divine work. So Abraham had to be a pilgrim, and he had to fight. Mary had to become the Mother of Sorrows. Jesus had to endure the cross, despising the shame. But the end is glory, and glory in communion with all of the actors on the stage of God’s story of salvation – with Abraham, with Mary, with all the saints, and most crucially, with Jesus.

 Let me read to you the testimony of a young Greek Orthodox monk at Mount Athos, who was the disciple of a famous elder who died in 1994, Elder Paisios. This testimony is the kind of thing that we are apt to forget or to dismiss in America in 2016. But it is important for us to remember.

 In the middle of the night, the young monk, Fr. Maximos, and his master went into a small chapel near the hermitage where they lived, to keep vigil and to pray. As they were praying, Fr. Maximos says:

 “…suddenly and inexplicably everything was transformed around us. Things changed so suddenly and dramatically that I could not figure out what was happening.

 “….a very subtle wind rushed into the chapel even though the door as well as the window were both firmly shut. The lamp in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin began swinging back and forth by itself. There was a lamp in front of each of the five icons. Only the one hanging in front of the Holy Virgin went on moving back and forth, back and forth.

 “….I was neither afraid nor rejoiced. I simply witnessed those events like an outsider. I just turned with curiosity toward elder Paisios, trying to figure out what was happening. He signaled to me to remain quiet as he knelt down and touched the floor with his forehead, remaining in that posture for some time. I stood there perplexed, holding the candle in my hand while the strange phenomena went on around me. After about half an hour, and while the lamp in front of the icon of the Holy Virgin continued its back and forth motion, I resumed the reading of the service. When I reached the seventh prayer of the blessing of Saint Symeon the lamp gradually stopped swinging. The luminosity that had inexplicably filled the room up to that point vanished and everything went back to normal.” (From The Mountain of Silence by Kyriacos Markides)

 This testimony, this little vignette, is a glimpse as it were through the window, a glimpse at two simple Christians living their life of faith, praying, fasting, repenting, worshipping God. The fact that it seems extraordinary to us should spur us to till the soil of our hearts with greater zeal – by means of prayer, frequent recourse to the sacraments, and especially confession. The truth is, this sort of thing is normal. The life we live in America in 2016 is upside-down.

 “The apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith!’ And the Lord said, ‘If you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this sycamine tree, `Be rooted up, and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.’”

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

holy cross announcements for friday, september 30, 2016

Announcements:

Sunday, October 2nd:  The Rector’s Study Group will be on hiatus until Sunday, October 9. On that day we will begin a several week discussion of the basics of Christian practice as outlined in the Bishop’s new guidelines for confirmation. Participation in this series is appropriate for all, and especially those who have not been confirmed. The first sessions will be devoted to a discussion of prayer

Thursday, October 6th:  Our neighborhood Crime Watch will be meeting in the parish hall at 6:00 pm, with representatives from our Northwest Division DPD officers. Holy Crucians  who live in the neighborhood, are encouraged to attend.

Hagiographies:

jeromeSeptember 30: Jerome

Born about the year 347 AD, St. Jerome was a Christian intellectual, apologist, and scholar, best known for his translation of the Bible into Latin. This translation became known as the “Vulgate” and was the standard edition of the Bible for well over a thousand years. Jerome was born in a Christian family in what is now the Balkans. As a young man, Jerome went first to Rome, and then to live as a hermit on an island in the Adriatic Sea and studied rhetoric and philosophy. Visiting the catacombs in Rome to pray, Jerome’s thoughts turned toward death and judgment, and for the first time he took hold of the faith, and gave himself to the service of the Gospel. He studies the Bible for several years with St. Gregory Nazianzen at Constantinople and with Didymus the Blind at Alexandria. One of his disciples, a Patrician Roman named Paula, supported Jerome’s activities, enabling him to retire to Bethlehem, where he lived as a hermit and devoted himself to scholarly activities. There he died on September 30, 420 AD. He was buried at Bethlehem, but his relics were later moved to the Basilica of St. Mary Major at Rome, where they remain to this day.

bishop-remigiusOctober 1: Remigius of Rheims

Remigius was born near Laon, in what is now northern France, to a prominent Gallo-Roman family, about the year 437 AD. Early in life he became known for his learning and the sanctity of his life. He was elected bishop of Rheims at the age of 22. Remigius is most famous for having converted and baptized Clovis, the King of the Franks. Remigius baptized Clovis at Christmas in 496 AD. This is regarded as a climatic turning point for northern Europe, when the light of the Gospel gained sway and the darkness of paganism and superstition was put to flight. Remigius is one of the patron saints of France. His relics were kept at Rheims, but were moved to Epernay during the Viking invasions, and thence, in the year 1099, Pope Leo IX ordered them to be returned to Rheims, to the Abbey of Saint-Remy, where they remain today.

holy-guardian-angelsOctober 2: The Holy Guardian Angels

The belief that God “assigns” an angel to each person, to guard and protect him, and to aid him in prayer, has its roots in Scripture. Job 33.23 says that for men there is “an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand,to declare to man what is right for him” and to pray for him. Likewise, Psalm 91.11-12 says “He shall give his angels charge over you / to keep you in all your ways. / They shall bear you in their hands / les you dash your foot against a stone.” And in Matthew 18.10, the Lord warns the people not to despise the little ones because, as he says, “in heaven their angels always behold the face of my Father who is in heaven.” The book of Hebrews (1.14) says explicitly that there are “ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation.” And the Acts of the Apostles records a number of instances of guardian angels giving assistance to the faithful. The Church has ever upheld this biblical teaching, and the Church has set aside October 2 as a day of remembering, honoring, and seeking the help of our holy guardian angels.

teresa-de-lisieuxOctober 3: Therese of Lisieux

Popularly known as “the Little Flower of Jesus”, St. Therese was born in 1873 in Alençon, France. A pious child, Therese became a Carmelite nun, taking the name “Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face”. Therese’s approach to the spiritual life has come to be known as “The Little Way”, the essence of which, as she wrote, is love for the Lord: “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.” The Mother Superior of Therese’s Carmel ordered her to write her autobiography, which Therese dutifully did. The work, “The Story of a Soul”, has become one of the most popular books of spirituality of the 20th and 21st centuries. Therese contracted tuberculosis and after spending about a year in the infirmary, she died at the age of 24. Shortly before her death, Therese told her sisters “I have reached the point of not being able to suffer any more, because all suffering is sweet to me.” In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared Therese to be one of the 39 “Doctors of the Church”. Thus this humble, unlearned peasant girl, with her Little Way of love, has taken her place amid the Church’s great fathers and doctors like St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas.

francisOctober 4: Francis of Assisi

The founder of the Friars Minor, Francis was born about 1182 in Assisi, the son of a successful cloth merchant. In his youth, Francis became a troubadour and a poet, and helped with his father’s business. From an early age Francis showed concern for the poor. After spending time as a soldier, Francis was prompted by a vision to return home, where Francis showed an increasing devotion to the Lord, and love for the poor. While he was praying in front of a crucifix in the Church of San Damiano, Francis had a vision in which the Lord said “Francis, go and repair my house which, as you can see, is falling into ruins.” The vision was repeated three times. Francis took the Lord to be referring to the Church of San Damiano, but later realized that he meant the state of the whole Catholic Church in the West. Francis renounced his inheritance and all his possessions, over the protests of his father, even removing the clothes he was wearing. Francis embraced the life of a beggar, ministering among the poor and sick, and helping to rebuild ruined churches. Over the years, others began to follow St. Francis, embracing the way of poverty. Francis and his followers went out barefoot, preaching repentance and conversion. Pope Innocent III blessed St. Francis’s work, and so the order of Friars Minor (i.e. Franciscans) was born. On the feast of the Holy Cross, in the year 1224, while praying on the mountain of La Verna, Francis, in ecstasy, received the gift of the five wounds of Christ. In 1226, Francis was taken to the infirmary, suffering from various ailments, and on October 3, Francis died while singing Psalm 141. In the centuries after his death, thousands of friaries have been planted all over the world, and countless Franciscans have embraced Francis’s way of life in the service of the Gospel of Jesus. St. Francis’s body was identified in 1978 beneath the Basilica in Assisi, now named for him, and were placed in a glass urn and reinterred in the Basilica’s crypt.

brunoOctober 6: Bruno of Cologne

Born about 1030 AD, St. Bruno was the founder of the Carthusian Order. He is remembered for his eloquence and the depth of his theological insight. After a brief career as the Chancellor of the diocese of Rheims, Bruno refused the archbishopric of Reggio di Calabria, and instead retired to a secluded place in the Alps of the Dauphine with several companions, at a place called Chartreuse. There they made a little retreat, and lived in solitude and poverty, giving themselves to prayer and study. One of Bruno’s companions later became Pope Urban II, who called Bruno to Rome to act as his advisor. Eventually Bruno prevailed upon the pope to allow him to return to his life of prayer, this time in a high, forested valley in Calabria. Bruno died on this day in 1101. The life of the Carthusians is the most austere of any religious order – the brothers live, pray, and eat in solitude, with no contact with the outside world, coming together for choir offices two or three times a day. The Carthusians suffered terribly during the Reformation. The monks of the London Charterhouse were hanged, drawn, and quartered in 1535 for refusing to accept the crown’s supremacy over the Church and resisting the destruction of their house and the confiscation of their property by the crown.

holy cross sermon for holy cross day, september 18, 2016

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

Today we celebrate our “feast of title.” We are the Church of the Holy Cross, and today is the feast of the Holy Cross – the full name of which is the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.

This feast, which by tradition we keep on Sunday, is celebrated in the wider Church on September 14, the yearly anniversary of an event that took place in Jerusalem on September 14 in the year 335 AD. On that day, at the conclusion of a two-day festival marking the consecration of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the Bishop of Jerusalem, Maximus, came out of the church with a relic of the true cross, and held it aloft for the gathered faithful to venerate.

From the time of the Apostles, it would seem that Christians in Jerusalem held in veneration the sites associated with the life and death of Jesus, including and especially the site of his passion, death, burial, and resurrection. In the year 70 AD, the Roman general Titus (who would later become emperor) destroyed the city of Jerusalem, together with the Jewish temple. And some decades later the emperor Hadrian, a great enemy of Christianity, deliberately desecrated the Christian holy places, and built a temple to the goddess Aphrodite at the place where Jesus had been crucified.

As is often the case with the devil’s machinations, God’s providence brought about a greater and unforeseen good from this desecration. The temple of Aphrodite erected by Hadrian meant that the memory of mount Calvary was preserved. And when at last a Christian became the undisputed emperor – namely the emperor Constantine, whose mother, Helena, our patroness, was a Christian – one of the churches he ordered to be built was that of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. They knew exactly where the church should go, because the temple of Aphrodite marked the spot.

The temple of Aphrodite was torn down, and as the ground was being excavated, an old tomb was discovered in the bedrock, together with three wooden crosses. According to a history written by Rufinus of Aquileia not long after the events, in order to determine which cross was that of the Savior, Helena had a terminally ill woman brought from the city who, after touching the third cross, was instantly healed, thus proving to the faithful that the third cross was the life-giving cross of Jesus.

This cross was divided into pieces which were sent, in turn, to churches throughout the empire. A large piece was retained in a silver reliquary at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher at Jerusalem. Another large piece was sent to Rome, to Helena’s private chapel which became the basilica of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. St. Cyril of Jerusalem, who was a young man when these events took place, says in one of his later works that “The whole world has since [these events] been filled with pieces of the wood of the cross.”

One such piece, a very small one, has made its way through the centuries and around the world and come into our custody at Church of the Holy Cross. It was this small piece that was carried in procession at the beginning of this mass, and which now reposes on the altar at the back of the church.

So what’s the point? Well there may be many points, many inferences to be drawn from the foregoing history of this feast. But one such inference surely has to do with the particularity of our faith, of our salvation. We are apt, I think, to reduce the mysteries of our faith to matters of the head and of the heart. To intellectual affirmations and emotional states and such things. But today we are reminded, in short, that matter matters. Our salvation is very particular and very material. It happened at a particular place – and that place may still be visited and venerated. And it took place by means of a very particular bit of wood. The cross was real. The cross was physical. It was made from the wood of some tree that grew up from some seed in some spot in Judea some 2,000 years ago. And part of that wood is in this room here with us now.

One is reminded of the old Anglo-Saxon poem, the Dream of the Rood, wherein the cross tells its own story:

It was long past – I still remember it –
That I was cut down at the copse’s end,
Moved from my root. Strong enemies there took me,
Told me to hold aloft their criminals,
Made me a spectacle. Men carried me
Upon their shoulders, set me on a hill,
A host of enemies there fastened me.
And then I saw the Lord of all mankind
Hasten with eager zeal that He might mount
Upon me. I durst not against God’s word
Bend down or break, when I saw tremble all
The surface of the earth. Although I might
Have struck down all the foes, yet stood I fast.
Then the young hero (who was almighty God)
Got ready, resolute and strong in heart.
He climbed onto the lofty gallows-tree,
Bold in the sight of many watching men,
When He intended to redeem mankind.
I trembled as the warrior embraced me.
But still I dared not bend down to the earth,
Fall to the ground. Upright I had to stand.

It is worth considering, extending the sentiment of the Jewish song for Pessach – why is this wood different from all other wood? Surely it is the plan of God set forth upon it, and by means of it, that has transformed it. The seer of the Dream of the Rood speaks this way – of the spiritual vision of the cross, suffused with glory in the spiritual realm. Its truest nature disclosed to the eyes of the seer’s faith:

I saw the tree of glory brightly shine
In gorgeous clothing, all bedecked with gold.
The Ruler’s tree was worthily adorned
With gems; yet I could see beyond that gold
The ancient strife of wretched men, when first
Upon its right side it began to bleed.
I was all moved with sorrows, and afraid
At the fair sight. I saw that lively beacon
Changing its clothes and hues; sometimes it was
Bedewed with blood and drenched with flowing gore,
At other times it was bedecked with treasure.
So I lay watching there the Saviour’s tree…

It was a bit of wood, indistinguishable from any other, until the election of God and man intersected on it, for God does nothing at random, but foresees everything from all eternity. This tree, this wood, was the subject of God’s election and the instrument of ours.

And seeing it in this light is a foretaste of our destiny in Christ, by means of his exalted cross. We too are matter, mud creatures, formed of clay. “Remember, o man, that thou art dust, and unto dust shalt thou return.” As George, our bishop, said in a recent teaching:

“Of course mysteries envelop all we are imagining. To God not only does all creation have an [o]n-going reality, but it is transformed!  A new kind of life springs forth, and is not static, but with a finality and perfection.  The corruptible is still real, our pasts not erased, but now ‘put on incorruption.’  When Christ the real Heart of all things is made transparent, they are changed, as if restored from the dead.”

Remember this. Let your looking with devotion on the wood of the cross be a reminder of this. That as real as your life is, as real as your circumstances and relationships and trials and so forth are – they are not the be-all-and-in-all of your being. You are destined to share in the glory of the risen Christ, to “put on incorruption” in Christ. And ask yourself how, in light of this vocation to incorruption, you ought to live your life here and now.

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

holy cross announcements for friday, september 9, 2016

Announcements:

Sunday, September 11th: The Rector’s Study Group will continue to meet at 9:30 Sunday mornings for a six or seven week discussion of the virtues. All are welcome!

Sunday, September 18th: we will celebrate our church’s feast of title: The Exaltation of the Holy Cross. I hope you will all be able to join this solemn celebration. We will include a procession at mass, and we will adjourn to drinks and a potluck luncheon in the parish hall. Please do come, and bring a dish and your appetite – and maybe a friend!

Sunday, September 25th:  The Vestry meeting will be held after mass.

Hagiographies:


martyrs-of-memphisSeptember 9: Constance and her Companions: the Martyrs of Memphis

During the 19th century Memphis Tennessee suffered from periodic outbreaks of Yellow Fever. In 1878 the worst of these outbreaks began. Over 5,000 residents lost their lives. Five years previously, a community of Anglican nuns, from the Sisterhood of St. Mary, had relocated to Memphis to take over the Cathedral School for girls. As the epidemic grew worse, most of the residents of Memphis who were able, fled. However a number of Christians, knowing that they were likely to be killed, stayed behind to feed the hungry, to care for the sick and dying, to bury the dead, and tend to children who had been orphaned by the disease. Among those who stayed were the Sister Superior, Sister Constance, along with three of her nuns (Sister Thecla, Sister Ruth, and Sister Frances), and two priests (Father Charles Parsons, rector of Grace Church in Memphis, and Father Louis Schuyler, assistant rector of Holy Innocents Church in Hoboken NY).  All five succumbed to the fever, giving their lives in loving obedience to the Lord’s summons. In testimony of their self-sacrifice, Sister Ruth had written to a friend, as she set out from the mother house in Peekskill, heading to her death in Memphis: “The telegram came, asking for more helpers, before I had time to offer myself; but the Mother [Superior] has chosen me, and you know how gladly and unreservedly I give myself to our dear Lord. Pray for me, that in life, in death, I may be ever His own.” Today is also the anniversary of Fr Will’s ordination to the priesthood.

san-cipriano-oracion-contra-maleficios-y-hechicerias-3September 13: St. Cyprian

Cyprian was born in the early 200’s AD in North Africa. He was born a pagan, but was converted to faith in Jesus by a priest named Caesilius. After his baptism, he gave away much of his wealth to relieve the poor. He was soon ordained to the diaconate and then the priesthood, and not long afterward was consecrated bishop of Carthage (in modern Tunisia). During the persecutions under Emperor Decius, especially severe at Carthage, Cyprian took a moderate position on the reconciliation of those who had renounced the faith in the face of persecution. St. Cyprian himself fell into error when he opposed Pope Stephen on the question of baptism by heretics. Cyprian maintained that baptism by heretics was utterly null and void, and baptized as for the first time heretics who became Catholics. Pope Stephen maintained that baptism was valid even if ministered by a heretic, and this has been the teaching of the Church every since (even non-Christians or atheists may validly baptize, so long as they use the Trinitarian formula – “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” – and they intend to do what the Church does when she baptizes). In Cyprian’s day, this question was a matter of discipline and not of dogma. During the persecutions under Valerian, Pope Stephen and his successor Sixtus II were martyred. Seeing the hand writing on the wall, St. Cyprian strengthened his flock for the coming ordeal, writing “An Exhortation to Martyrdom” (a work which, along with many others, survives), and set an example when, brought before the Proconsul, Cyprian resolutely professed faith in Jesus and refused to sacrifice to the pagan gods. He was banished to the wilderness, along with many other Christians, where Cyprian comforted and ministered to them as best he could. There Cyprian had a vision of his impending fate. He was summoned back to Carthage when in 258 AD an imperial edict arrived commanding the execution of all Christian clerics. Cyprian was interrogated for the last time, and when he refused to renounce Jesus, he was condemned to die by the sword, to which the saint responded only “Thanks be to God!” The sentence was carried out immediately. Cyprian was led to an open place where he removed his garments without help, knelt in prayer, blindfolded himself, and was beheaded. His body was buried by his disciples, and his tomb held in veneration. When the persecutions came to an end, a basilica was built over his tomb. Charlemagne later removed Cyprian’s relics to France, where they were distributed and kept and venerated to this day at Lyons, Arles, Venice, Compiegne, and Roenay.

exaltation-of-the-holy-crossSeptember 14: (The Exaltation of the) Holy Cross

On this day we remember the instrument whereby God manifested his love for the world in a total, irrevocable, and definitive way: the cross of Christ. On the cross, Jesus Christ, who is the only Son of God, and himself God, offered his divine life to us, and his human life acceptably to God the Father, thereby making peace between God and man, and opening for mankind a route back to our heavenly home. Because the cross was the instrument of this offering, Christians have venerated it and held it in honor for as long as there are records of Christian veneration. In the year 326, Christianity had just been made legal in the Roman Empire, and Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine, went on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Lands that had been confiscated from Christians around the turn of the first century were returned to the Church, and during excavations directed by Saint Helena at the place where Jesus was buried, three crosses were discovered. After touching one of these crosses, a woman with a terminal illness was instantly healed, and the gathered Christians concluded that this cross was the very one on which our Lord suffered and died. A church was built on the spot (the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, still standing – though much changed through the years – at Jerusalem today), and this day is the anniversary of the two-day festival celebrating the consecration of that church – September 13 – 14, in the year 335. Pieces of the Cross were sent to churches throughout the empire, including to a church in Rome built for the purpose: Santa Croce in Gerusalemme (still standing in Rome). This piece, years later, was sent to St. Peter’s Basilica, where it remains. And a piece from this piece, was given to a monk in the early 1900’s named Philip Salmone, who in turn gave it to a parishioner of Holy Cross, Dallas. This relic of the true Cross remains in our care to this day.

simon_bening_flemish_-_the_seven_sorrows_of_the_virgin_-_google_art_projectSeptember 15: Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This day marks our remembrance of the suffering Mary had to endure in virtue of her love for her divine Son, and her faith in him. In Luke 2.34, after prophesying about the sufferings of Jesus, the aged priest St. Simeon, prophesied to Mary that “a sword will pierce through your own soul also”. This prophecy was fulfilled in many ways during Mary’s lifetime, and her suffering culminated on calvary, where she had to stand helplessly and watch as her only Son was tortured and murdered in front of her. The seven sorrows traditionally associated with Mary are: 1) the prophecy of Simeon, 2) the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt (Matthew 2.13), 3) the loss of the child Jesus for three days (Luke 2.43), 4) the encounter between Mary and Jesus as Jesus carried the cross (Luke 23.26), 5) the crucifixion of Jesus (John 19.25), 6) the descent from the cross, when the dead body of Jesus was laid in Mary’s arms (Matthew 27.57), and 7) the burial of Jesus (John 19.40). In this feast, we can see the salutary nature of devotion to our Lady, because Mary always leads us to Jesus. In the Gospels, we see Mary holding on to Jesus in faith and love at every stage of his life, and even in his death, though it often meant that Mary had to suffer. In this we learn what it means to be a Christian. In prayer, when we say, “Mary,” her response is always, “Jesus.”

holy cross announcements for friday, september 2, 2016

Announcements

Sunday, September 4th: The Rector’s Study Group will continue to meet at 9:30 Sunday mornings for a six or seven week discussion of the virtues. All are welcome!

The Mass propers will be sung by the Schola Cantorum Stella Solae under the direction of Mr. Brian Bentley.

A “champagne brunch” will be served in the parish hall after mass. There is no charge. All are welcome.

Thursday, September 8th – Friday, September 9th:  There will be no mass

Sunday, September 25th:  The Vestry meeting will be held after mass.

Hagiographies

martyrsSeptember 2: The Martyrs of New Guinea

When World War II threatened Papua and New Guinea, it was obvious that missionaries of European origin were in danger. There was talk of leaving, but Bishop Philip Strong wrote to his clergy: “We must endeavour to carry on our work. God expects this of us. The church at home, which sent us out, will surely expect it of us. The universal church expects it of us. The people whom we serve expect it of us. We could never hold up our faces again if, for our own safety, we all forsook Him and fled when the shadows of the Passion began to gather around Him in His spiritual and mystical body, the Church in Papua.” They stayed. Almost immediately there were arrests by the Japanese. Eight clergymen and two laymen were executed as an example on September 2, 1942. In the next few years, many Papuan Christians of all Churches risked their own lives to care for the wounded. Today, thanks to the work of these holy martyrs, and others who preceded and followed them, Papua New Guinea is its own province within the Anglican Communion, and is one of the strongholds of Catholic Anglicanism.

St.-Phoebe-241x300September 3: St. Phoebe the Deaconess

Phoebe (1st century) was a deaconess of the Church at Cenchreae, the port of Corinth. She was recommended to the Christian congregation at Rome by St. Paul, who praised her for her assistance to him and to many others. She may have brought Paul’s epistle to the Romans to Rome with her. Little else is know of her. St. Paul mentions her in Romans 16.1.

 

Boris & GlebSeptember 5: Ss. Boris and Gleb

The first saints canonized in Kieven Rus, after the conversion of that region to faith in Christ. Both were princes, and both were murdered during the Russian wards of the 11th century. Orthodox Christians consider them “protomartyrs” of Russia, and “passion-bearers” – saints who, though they did not die for the faith, nevertheless faced their death in a Christ-like way.

 

 

SSM-nativita-l

September 8: The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary

This feast has been celebrated since the 5th century, nine months after the feast of the Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary (on December 8). The theological significance of the Nativity of Mary was first laid out in a richly symbolical work called the Protoevangelium of James, probably written about the year 150 AD. Today we remember that already in Genesis, the Lord had promised deliverance for the creatures he had made in his image and likeness, when God himself prophesied the birth of a woman whose seed would crush the head of the serpent (Genesis 3.15). Mary is that woman, and Jesus is her Son. Today we celebrate the birth of the Ark of the New Covenant, the one in whom “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.”

holy cross sermon for the twelfth sunday after pentecost, august 7, 2016

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”

So says Jesus in the opening of today’s gospel reading. And in this knowledge – the knowledge of what is in store for us – that it is our Father’s good pleasure to give us the kingdom – we may be bold and otherworldly. This conviction of our status as children of God and coheirs with Christ of divinity – this reality, and our knowledge of it, are what ought to make Christians conspicuous within the world. Its the source the peculiar priorities of the practice of our faith.

In the Gospel reading Jesus goes on to urge his followers to live out of this conviction, to put these priorities into practice. “Sell your possessions, and give alms; provide yourselves with purses that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

In Christ, we have come to know the source and summit of all value. As the great Catholic theologian of the 20th century, Hans Urs von Balthasar, put it: from the day of Jesus’ resurrection and onward and forever, all shape must arise from the Lord’s empty tomb, all wholeness must draw its strength from the Lord’s glorified, creative Page 3 of 11 Holy Cross Sermon / Proper 14 / Year C Fr. Will Brown wounds. The resurrection and glorification of Jesus is our ultimate reference point and the source of all value. Because we have been made “members of his body” (Ephesians 5.30) by our baptism, therefore his destiny has become our destiny. And therefore all of our life should be oriented toward the fulfillment within ourselves of what Christ has accomplished.

This is why the Gospels put so little stock in the things of the world – because, as Peter says, “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up,” (2 Peter 3.10).

This too is why the Gospels seem to take such a dim view of riches, and of the rich, and of those who are wrapped up in the affairs of the world, those who have made its values and priorities their own – i.e. because all of that will pass away, and those who are tied tightly to it are liable to pass away with it. Conversely this is why the Gospels place such value on poverty and abnegation, why the Lord speaks so highly of those who are afflicted within the world, as in the beatitudes where he says: blessed are the poor in spirit… blessed are those who mourn… blessed are the meek… blessed are those who hunger and thirst…blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…. Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely…” (Matthew 5, passim). Because, as Page 5 of 11 Holy Cross Sermon / Proper 14 / Year C Fr. Will Brown Bob Dylan said, “if you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” But more to the point: if you ain’t got nothing, then you have a space within yourself in which God may dwell, if you desire him. If you want God to fill you, first you have to become empty.

Today’s Gospel reading opens with Jesus enjoining his followers to “fear not”. I once had a conversation with a friend about desire. When one reads the Gospels and hears these kinds of things – about the priority of poverty, of lowliness, humility, chastity, abstemiousness and the like – sincere and attentive people may get a little frightened. We may worry that really committing ourselves to following Jesus will end up in our being poor, maligned, persecuted, and so forth. The Page 6 of 11 Holy Cross Sermon / Proper 14 / Year C Fr. Will Brown conversation I had with my friend centered on this fear. We worry about the consequences for us of becoming the brothers and sisters of Jesus in spirit and in truth. This anxiety is a symptom of our still being wrapped up in the world’s blandishments. There’s only one consequence of communion with Jesus that is worth thinking about: the kingdom of God. We don’t “receive” poverty; we receive the Kingdom! We become what Christ is. Paul says in Romans:

…you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation Page 7 of 11 Holy Cross Sermon / Proper 14 / Year C Fr. Will Brown waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God… (Romans 8.15-19).

This is why so many of the saints exhibited such a nonchalance in the face of every kind of adversity. They knew what they were about, and they really believed the promises of God.

One of my favorite pieces of spiritual writing is a pastoral letter written by Pope John Paul II to the elderly of the world. The Holy Father wrote it in 1999, when he was 79. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, and was beginning to exhibit symptoms. In it John Paul writes of the dynamic about which we hear in today’s Gospel – letting go of earthly things in order to store up treasurers in heaven, and Page 8 of 11 Holy Cross Sermon / Proper 14 / Year C Fr. Will Brown about how hard it is to do this. In his letter, John Paul comments on the risen Lord’s words to Peter at the end of John’s gospel, where Jesus says:

Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go.” (This he said to show by what death [Peter] was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” (John 21.18f)

John Paul knew that he had a terminal disease, and as his death was coming into focus, he felt, like Peter, as though he were being girded by another and carried where he did not wish to go. He wrote: “These are words which, as the Successor of Peter, touch me personally; they make me feel strongly the need to reach out and grasp the hands of Christ, in obedience to his command: ‘Follow me!’”

Central to the mystery of this dynamic is that the abandonment of earthly things does not, as one might expect, lead to a disengagement from the world. On the contrary, and somewhat mysteriously, it leads to our becoming vessels of God’s grace within the world. We become empowered by God to transform the world – powerfully to cooperate with God in his work of redeeming the world, in his work of reconciliation, healing, and the proclamation of the Good News of new life in Christ. But we are empowered to do these things precisely in the act of becoming detached from the things of the world. This process can be painful and frightening, but God is good, full of mercy and love, and Page 10 of 11 Holy Cross Sermon / Proper 14 / Year C Fr. Will Brown he comes to us with the gift of a peace and a joy that transcends circumstances.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We might think of faith as keeping our eyes on the prize. The prize is the Kingdom of God, which is coextensive with our communion with Christ himself. We must keep our eyes fixed lovingly on him (through prayer, meditation on God’s Word, and frequent recourse to the sacraments of the Church). In the letter to the Hebrews, in the chapter just after the one we heard today, we are exhorted to do this very thing and for these very reasons:

…let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance Page 11 of 11 Holy Cross Sermon / Proper 14 / Year C Fr. Will Brown the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Hebrews 12.1ff

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

 

holy cross sermon for the eleventh sunday in pentecost, july 31, 2016

 

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

“Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?”

In today’s Gospel reading, the Lord speaks of the futility and the danger that come from an attachment to carnal or worldly things. As with the story of Mary and Martha which we heard several weeks ago, today’s story features two siblings, one of whom feels wronged by the other, and who comes to Jesus appealing to his authority to set things right. And as with the story of Mary and Martha, if we are honest with ourselves, we find that what little we know of the petitioner elicits our sympathy. He seems really to be a victim of his brother’s selfishness and unfairness. “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.”

Nothing can cause more alienation within families than disputes over inheritance. It can seem impossible to find an equitable way of dividing things up. Even when people try to go the extra mile with generosity toward their fellow-heirs, when it comes to who gets what, bitterness and resentment nevertheless very frequently find a way to worm themselves into relationships.

So today we find the Lord speaking of the transience of all things. As St. Teresa of Avila put it, “Todo se pasa.” All things are passing away. So the question is: why hold on to them? Holding on to them can do nothing but imperil our souls. How foolish it is, therefore, to hold on to anything in the world whatsoever. All things are passing away. In his second epistle, St. Peter says: “…the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a loud noise, and the elements will be dissolved with fire, and the earth and the works that are upon it will be burned up.” And then Peter asks, “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of persons ought you to be[?]” (2 Peter 3.10ff).

If we have trouble with this question, in today’s Gospel the Lord says what sort of persons we are NOT to be. He says, “Take heed, and beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” (Luke 12.15). “Beware of all covetousness…” Covetousness means desiring what other people have, but the same power in our heart that gives rise to it also gives rise to an inordinate attachment to the things we DO have, and the danger of this kind of attachment is clear in the parable the Lord tells in this Gospel reading.

The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, `What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, `I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods… (Luke 12.16ff)

The first error of the rich man in the parable is in thinking that his crops belong to him to begin with, and this is a misconception to which we are all prone. So powerful a notion is it, that we go around just assuming it. “My stuff is my own.” But it isn’t true. We possess nothing of ourselves. Even that which seems nearest of all to us – our existence, our LIFE, our most intimate possession – is a gift from God. We did not create ourselves, and therefore as St. Paul says, “…you are not your own…” (1 Corinthians 6.19).

All that we have comes from God. And fighting covetousness and an attachment to things begins with this recognition that nothing belongs to us in a fundamental way, but that it all comes from God; and that we, who are the stewards of what we possess, must relate to and dispose all of it as God sees fit. If we say that he is our “Lord” and we fail to do this, then we make ourselves into liars and rebels.

St. Basil the Great says: “But if you say that what you have comes from God… why do you have plenty while another goes without? Are you not then a thief for thinking that what you have received [from God] belongs to you? It is the bread of the hungry that you receive, the clothing of the naked that you hoard in your wardrobe, the shoes of the barefoot that rot in your possession, the money of the poor which you have hidden away. Why then do you thus bring injury to so many whom you might help?”

What are we to do then? Do we have to give everything away if we are to be real Christians? Well many real Christians have done just that, and this is the core of the monastic vocation: embracing poverty for the sake of the Gospel. Christian history is filled to overflowing with examples of Christians doing this very thing. But not all of us are called to be monks and nuns. But we are all called to seek and to cultivate a detachment from our possessions that is borne of our recognition of the truth – that none of it belongs to us anyway, and that God has allowed us to have what we have for the sake of our salvation and the salvation of others. Armed with this attitude, we should proceed to relate to and dispose our STUFF accordingly – for our salvation, and for that of the whole world. And I would venture to guess that many of us could stand to give a lot of our stuff away.

Fundamentally we, as Christians, should gratefully accept everything as having come from God, we should use what we really need, and let go of the rest. Saint Basil says that if everyone just kept what he needed and gave the rest to the needy, then no one would be rich and no one would be poor. But how hard this is! And its difficulty should be an occasion for us to repent and to ask God to help us to do better.

In today’s Gospel reading Jesus confronts us with another reality – another truth – that we are prone to forget, but the memory of which should help us to relate to and dispose our stuff in a virtuous way. After the rich man in the parable decides to hold on tightly to his riches, God says to him: “Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ [And Jesus says] So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12.20f)

Its an amusing irony that people who are worried about the world ending spend a good deal of their energy hording food and guns and so forth. What good is it to stockpile stuff if the world is coming to and end? It would be much more sensible to give it away. And the truth is that the world IS coming to an end eventually, and that, as St. Teresa of Avila reminds us, all things are passing away continually. And regardless of whether or not we live to see the end of the world, the stark fact is that each of our own personal worlds is coming to an end relatively soon. We are all going to die. So what good is our stuff going to do us ultimately? Not much. Saint Athanasius of Alexandria said, “Now if you live so as to die daily, seeing that your life is naturally uncertain, you will not sin…” If I really realized in my heart the stark fact that: before this day is through, I could be standing before God for judgment, I imagine I would reorder my priorities.

Some of you may have read Flannery O’Connor’s great short story called “A Good Man is Hard to Find.” One of the main characters is a selfish old woman who turns quite beatific when she is faced with being murdered. After she is killed the misfit who kills her concludes, “she would have been a good woman . . . if it had been somebody there to shoot her every minute of her life.”

Spiritually I think we are often in the place of that mean old woman. If we just had someone to shoot us every minute of our lives, we might start relating to and disposing our stuff in a way that is more worthy of the name of Christ.

We ought not to wait until it is too late. The Book of Common Prayer, on page 445, directs the pastors of churches “to instruct [their] people, from time to time, about the duty… of all persons to make wills, while they are in health, arranging for the disposal of their temporal goods, not neglecting, if they are able, to leave bequests for religious and charitable uses.” You are hereby so instructed.

But more fundamentally, I wish us all prayerfully, regularly , humbly , and gratefully (which means EUCHARISTICALLY) to recognize the uncertainty of our lives, and to acknowledge God as the source of all that we have and all that we are – and then humbly, prayerfully, regularly, and gratefully to take stock of our STUFF, and resolve that our relationship to all of it will always grow from, and be informed by, this anterior recognition of God’s majesty and of our own insignificance: that we are nothing of ourselves, but that he was, and is, and will be all-in-all. Let us live and do and have accordingly.

Saint Ambrose of Milan said, “these THINGS that we cannot take away with us [when we die] are not truly ours. VIRTUE alone is the companion of the dead, MERCY alone follows us [beyond the grave and] gains for [us] an everlasting habitation.”

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

holy cross announcements for friday, april 29, 2016

Announcements:

  • The Rector’s Study Group meets at 9:30 Sunday mornings. All are welcome. If you have not been confirmed, attendance through the end of May will count as preparation.
  • The next vestry meeting will be on the day of Pentecost (May 15), after mass.

Hagiographies:

CatherineApril 29: Catherine of Sienna

Born March 25, 1347 to an lower-middleclass Sienese  family, Catherine was the youngest of 25 children. From an early age she experienced visions, and gave herself to the practice of intense devotion. At the age of seven she concecrated her virginity to Christ, and at 16 received the habit of the Third Order Friars Preachers (the Dominican Tertiaries) and devoted herself for three years to intense and solitary prayer. At the end of three years, Catherine experienced what she underwent the mystical experience called “spiritual espousal” to Jesus. Thereafter she gave herself to serving the poor, and to ministering among the very sick, especially those with the most repulsive afflictions. She went for long periods with no food except the Blessed Sacrament. She was often afflicted with great physical pain, but she was always said to in a state of blissful happiness. Moreover, she was graced with very keen spiritual insight and practical wisdom, on account of which she attracted numerous disciples, both men and women, and became a trusted adviser to hundreds, including princes, kings, and even two popes (Gregory XI and Urban VI). While deep in prayer at Pisa, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, 1375, Catherine received the stigmata (the marks of the wounds of Jesus), although she asked the Lord that they should remain invisible, which they did. After Catherine died, the marks became visible on her corpse. At the request of Pope Urban VI, Catherine moved to Rome, and was involved in peacemaking and reconciliation between the city-states of Italy. In 1380, at the age of 33, the same age at which the Lord suffered and died, a mysterious illness seized Catherine. She endured it for three months, all the while in a state of intense happiness and deep prayer, offering her sufferings to Jesus as a prayer for the good of his Church. She died at Rome on April 29, 1380. Over 400 of Catherine’s letters survive, as well as a record of her insights and revelations called “A Treatise on Divine Providence”. Her body is venerated at the Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Rome; while her incorrupt head and thumb are at the Basilica of San Domenico in Siena. In 1970 she was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI.

monks of clunyApril 30: Holy Abbots of Cluny

The great Benedictine monastery at Cluny, founded by William of Auquitaine in the 10th century, became a powerful center of monastic reform under its first abbots, Odo, Maiolus, Odilon, Hugh, and Peter the Venerable. Their teaching and example issued in the return of monks throughout the West to a stricter adherence to the Rule of St. Benedict and to the first order monastic values of simplicity, obedience, and ongoing conversion, as well as to the daily round of the liturgy as the first work of monks. As a result of their efforts, the Cluniac iteration of Benedictine monasticism became the standard for western monasteries during the Middle Ages. Cluny Abbey itself survived until the French Revolution, when its library was burned and the abbey church pillaged and ransacked. The grounds were sold in 1798, and are now used as a school, although a few of the old monastic buildings, including a portion of the Romanesque church, survive.

philip and jamesMay 1: PHILIP AND JAMES

Apostles of the Lord, Ss. Philip and James are remembered together because of an ancient church at Rome dedicated to them on this day in the 4th century (the church is now called the Church of the Twelve Apostles). Philip is always listed 5thin the New Testament lists of the Apostles. He was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and seems to have been a friend or relative of Peter and Andrew, who were from the same town. It was Philip who asked the Lord at the Last Supper to show the Apostles the Father, to which Jesus responded, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you do not know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14.9). Later tradition says that Philip preached the Gospel through Syria, Greece, and Phyrigia, ending his ministry in martyrdom by crucifixion in the city of Hierapolis. This James is called “James the Just” in tradition. He is mentioned by name in the Gospels, but little is said about him. In the Acts of the Apostles and in the writings of St. Paul, James emerges as one of the main leaders of the incipient Church, and as the first bishop of Jerusalem. He is one of the figures called “the brother of the Lord” in Scripture, a title which probably meant that he was a half-brother or cousin of Jesus (as has been explained elsewhere). The first century Jewish historian, Josephus, says that James was condemned by the Sanhedrin at Jerusalem for “breaking the [religious] law” around the time of the procuratorship of Procius Festus, and that James was stoned to death. It is said that as he was dying, he prayed for his murders, after the Lord’s own example, and that he was finally killed by being struck in the head with a fuller’s rod.

athanasiusMay 2: Athanasius of Alexandria

Born about the year 293 in Egypt, Athanasius was a teacher of the faith, a theologian, and Bishop of Alexandria. Because of his dogged opposition to the Arian heretics (who denied that Jesus was God), and because many of the faithful had lapsed into Arianism, the phrase “Athanasius contra mundum” – “Athanasius against the whole world” – came into usage. Athanasius endured exile for his faith numerous times. While in exile, it is said that he lived in his ancestral tomb, and continued to preach and teach, and to govern the faithful from afar. He was present at the Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, where the Catholic faith was vindicated against the Arians, and from which, partly thanks to the devout work of St. Athanasius, we get the Nicene Creed, recited at Mass on Sundays and feasts. Athanasius was a prolific and eloquent writer, and many of his works have survived and are still studied. Notable among them is his work “On the Incarnation of the Word”, a systematic and very accessible exposition of the Christian faith. Beginning in the year 366, Athanasius was able to return to his see, where he was left in peace, there to write and preach and shepherd his diocese until May 2, 373, when St. Athanasius died peacefully in his own home.

monicaMay 4: Monica, Mother of Augustine

Most of what we know of Monica comes from her son, St. Augustine of Hippo, who wrote extensively about her in his great spiritual autobiography, the “Confessions”. Monica was born in the year 333 in north Africa, in the town of Thagaste (now called Souk Ahras, in Algeria). She was raised in a Christian family, but early in life married a pagan named Patritius, a government official in Thagaste. Monica’s marriage was neither tranquil nor happy. Patritius seems to have had a violent temper and dissolute habits. Augustine recounts that Monica’s devotion to Christ, her prayer, and her pious habits, deeply annoyed Patritius who, despite his annoyance, held her in a kind of awe. Unhappy wives were even more common in classical antiquity than they are now, owing to the comparatively few liberties they enjoyed in classical culture. Augustine says that Monica exercised a ministry to other wives and mothers in the town of Thagaste, assisting them most profitably by the example of her devotion and patience. Monica and Patritius had three children, of whom Augustine was the eldest. Patritius refused to allow them to be baptized, which deeply grieved Monica. Augustine himself, as a young man, moved away from home and took up with the intellectual avant-garde of his day, an esoteric sect call the Manichees. Augustine also took a mistress, and lived a life of liberal sexual indulgence. All of this deeply grieved Monica, and she shed many tears and prayed earnestly for her son. At one point, Monica sought the advice of a holy bishop, who consoled her with the words “the child of those tears shall never perish.” And it was true. Augustine was eventually converted to faith in Christ, and went on to become arguably the greatest teacher of the Christian faith the world has yet seen since the age of the Apostles. Not only that, but shortly before his death, Patritius himself came to faith in Christ, and received the new birth of Baptism. Monica and Augustine spent the better part of a year together in peace, rejoicing in one another’s spiritual companionship and prayer. On their return journey to Africa from Milan, Monica fell ill and died at the town of Ostia, where she was buried, in the year 387. Her relics were later moved to Rome, and it is recorded that many miracles occurred along the way. Monica was reinterred in a chapel near the high altar of a church in Rome dedicated to Augustine. Monica was a model of Christian virtue, of Christian wifehood, motherhood, and widowhood; it is said that she was twice over the mother of Augustine, because not only did she bring him into the world, but by twenty years of prayer and sorrowful labor, she brought about his rebirth through Baptism into eternal life.

conversion of augustineMay 5: The Conversion of Augustine

Augustine recounts the story of his conversion in his “Confessions”. After running away from the faith of his mother for twenty years, through her prayers, and through the teaching of St. Ambrose of Milan, he finally acquiesced to the Lord’s call to his heart. In the “Confessions”, Augustine writes: “You, O Lord, pressed upon me in my inward parts by a severe mercy, redoubling the lashes of fear and shame, lest I should again give way, and that same slender remaining tie not being broken off, it should recover strength, and enchain me the faster. For I said mentally, ‘Let it be now; let it be now.’ And as I spoke, I all but came to a resolve. I all but did it, yet I did it not.” And he says that his old thoughts and habits kept whispering to him “Are you going to dismiss us?  From this moment we shall never be with you again, for ever and ever.  From this moment on you will never again be allowed to do this thing or that.” Finally the crisis reaches a climax, and Augustine can no longer stand it. He curls up under a fig tree and weeps, and hears some children playing a game in a nearby garden, chanting “Tolle lege; tolle lege” (“take it and read; take it and read”). Augustine picks up a copy of Paul’s epistles which he had been studying, he opens it at random and reads “not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13.13-14). He understands the Lord to be speaking directly to him, and he goes and asks to receive the sacrament of Baptism.

%d bloggers like this: