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.”

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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holy cross announcements for friday, april 1, 2016

Announcements:

Sunday, April 3rd:  The vestry will meet after mass.

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holy cross announcements for friday, april 1, 2016

Happy Easter! There will be a festal luncheon served in the parish hall after the Easter Sunday mass. All are welcome! There is no charge.

There will be no weekday masses during Easter Week (March 28 – April 2).

Low Sunday (April 3) is the first Sunday of the month. We look forward to welcoming back to Holy Cross the Schola Cantorum Stella Solae. There will be a festal reception (but no brunch) after mass in the parish hall. All are welcome!

The vestry will meet after mass on Low Sunday

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holy cross sermon for palm sunday, march 20, 2016

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

The best liturgical books say that a sermon “may” be preached at the principle mass of Palm Sunday. This is partly due to this liturgy’s being rather longer than usual. But its also because this liturgy – perhaps more than usual – sort of speaks for itself, in “words without words.”

With this mass, and the “liturgy of the palms” that precedes it, we enter into Holy Week, which will reach its climax with the events of the “Triduum” – the great “Three Days” of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday / Easter. These liturgies are all very different from what we do throughout the rest of the year. They are in fact unique. Each of them we only celebrate once a year. On Maundy Thursday: the Pedilavium, the stripping of the altar, and the Gethsemane Vigil at the altar of repose. On Good Friday: the veneration of the cross, the solemn collects, the reproaches of Jeremiah, and the mass of the presanctified. And on Easter Eve: the blessing of the new fire, the singing of the Exsultet, the reading of the prophecies, and the blessing of the baptismal waters.

All of these rituals are very ancient, their origins lost in the mists of the “disciplina arcani,” of the earliest years of Christianity, when Christians had to practice their faith secretly, sometimes literally underground. But more to the point – and as I am forever insisting with respect to the mass itself – these rituals have been given to us by God as the principle means of participating mystically in the life of Christ, of being incorporated into him. These things aren’t just edifying options; but they constitute life in Christ, and as such are, in a very real sense, the same thing as salvation. I say all of that by way of saying: I am glad you are here this morning, standing among the Lord’s disciples, bearing witness to his entrance into Jerusalem, and hearing of his impending passion. And I hope that you will come, if at all possible, to the liturgies of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Eve – to accompany the Lord on the way of his suffering.

Maybe more than anything else, to me, today’s liturgy is disorienting. The vestments even change colors perplexingly part way through it. It has a festal character, and then suddenly, as it were out of nowhere, five days too soon, we’re hearing the account of Jesus’ suffering and death.

But this way of entering Holy Week is “meet and right.” Because we are embarking upon a weeklong ascent of Mount Calvary, climbing spiritually up to the “highest, thinnest pinnacle” of creation. And when we get to the top where – in the words of one of the meditations from the Carmelite Stations of the Cross that we have been using his year – when we get to the top, where we had hoped to see a clearer light, we are confronted by the cross, by this instrument of torture and death. And this is the Grand Disorientation. A disorientation on a cosmic scale – the revelation that the only open road to heaven lies through the center of the cross, that there is no way around it, no avoiding the issue. It is truly a “mundus inversus” – a world turned upside down. Though, of course, a great part of the point is that the world was actually upside down before; only now is it being put right side up. But this reorientation of everything, of setting the world at last on its proper foundation, requires a cosmic shakeup, and we naturally find ourselves disoriented – at least if we have engaged these events prayerfully, meditatively, and patiently.

Pope Benedict wrote in one of his books:

The ultimate goal of Jesus’ “ascent” [of Mount Calvary] is his self-offering on the Cross, which supplants the old sacrifices; it is the ascent that the Letter to the Hebrews describes as going up, not to a sanctuary made by human hands, but to heaven itself, into the presence of God (9:24). This ascent into God’s presence leads via the Cross – it is the ascent toward “loving to the end” (cf. Jn 13:1), which is the real mountain of God. (Benedict in Jesus of Nazareth vol. 2)

So this disorientation is salutary. It reminds us that the way to heaven is not something that we could have devised for ourselves. And so it reminds us that journeying along this path will mean that we will need to let go of preconceptions, prejudices, all kinds of personal “baggage,” and cultivate PATIENCE, passivity, a willingness to be acted-upon, in imitation of the Crucified. No doubt many of the same people who shouted, “Hosanna!” as Jesus entered the City of David, a very short time later, we hear, are shouting “Crucify him!” Perhaps their hopes had been dashed by the arrest and condemnation of their great Liberator.

I want to leave you with this simple question: in order to climb Mount Calvary, what do you need to let go of?

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

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