holy cross announcements for friday, january 22, 2016

Announcements:

Saturday, January 23rd:  A Requiem Mass for Michael Morris will be held at 10:00 am.

Sunday, January 24th:  The vestry meeting will be held after mass.

Tuesday, January 26th – Thursday, January 28th:  There will be no weekday masses.  Fr. Will has been called out of town.

Monday, January 2th – Sunday, February 7th:  Kroger is participating again this year in the annual Superbowl of Caring “Tackle Hunger” campaign.  Services of Hope will be the recipient of donations made at the Kroger in Uptown (4901 Maple Ave, Dallas, TX 75235) and needs volunteers to greet customers and encourage them to either purchase a pre-made bag or food or give a cash donation.  Services of Hope is trying to schedule 1 – 2 volunteers for 2 hour shifts during store hours through February 7th.  If you are interested in volunteering, please contact Donna Patterson at 214.276.0235.

Saturday, January 30th:  The Feast of St. Charles Stuart, King and Martyr. St. Charles has had a special place in the affections of Anglo-Catholics for almost four centuries. Mass will be at 5:00 pm on Saturday.

Sunday, February 7th:  The annual meeting and luncheon will be held after mass.

Hagiographies:

Vicente_de_Zaragoza_anonymous_painting_XVI_centuryJanuary 22: Vincent, Deacon and Martyr

Vincent was a deacon of Saragossa (Spain) martyred during the persecutions under Emperor Diocletian. He studied under the direction of Bishop Valerius of Saragossa, and distinguished himself in learning. Valerius ordained Vincent a deacon, and he served as preacher for Valerius, who had an impediment of speech. By order of the governor, named Dacian, Valerius and Vincent were arrested and brought in chains to Valencia, where both were imprisoned for a long time. Eventually Varlerius was banished, but Vincent was cruelly tortured on the rack, the gridiron, and with scourging. He was again imprisoned in a cell with potsherds and broken glass strewn across the floor. He was next placed in a luxurious bed in an effort to weaken his fortitude, but he remained steadfast in his confession of Christ, and died in the bed. His renown spread far and wide. A church was built over the site of his burial in Valencia, and several churches in Rome were early built in his honor. Numerous of these churches claim to possess some of his relics.

 

desales_portraitJanuary 24: Francis de Sales

Francis was born to an aristocratic family in what is now the French Alps in 1567. Educated in the best schools, Francis had a crisis of faith because of his consideration of the Protestant doctrine of Predestination, becoming convinced that he was damned. This led Francis to despair, and made him physically ill. Praying before a miraculous image of our Lady at the church of St. Etienne-des-Gres, Francis was suddenly freed from his despair, and made a vow of chastity and consecrated himself to the Blessed Virgin. He continued his theological studies and received Holy Orders in 1593, to the annoyance of his father. He developed a reputation for learning, excellent preaching, kindness to all, humility, and holiness. He preached incessantly in the areas of France and Switzerland that had fallen under the sway of Calvinism, and converted (or “reverted”) many to the Catholic faith. Eventually he was made bishop of Geneva, where he continued his constant preaching, visitations, and frequently ministered the sacrament of Reconciliation (Confession). He wrote constantly, and his teachings on the spiritual life (most famously in “Introduction to the Devout Life”) are still widely read today. His school of spirituality is characterized by confidence in God, who is Love, and is often called “the Way of Divine Love”. He died suddenly after a brief illness at Lyons. After receiving the last Sacraments, he lay in bed repeating the words “God’s will be done! Jesus, my God and my all!” His heart was moved to Venice by the community of nuns he helped to establish during the French Revolution, and there it is venerated to this day, with many miracles and cures having been reported. The goal of St. Francis’s method of spirituality is simple, loving, generous, and constant faithfulness to God’s will; and to this end, St. Francis recommended constant remembrance of the presence of God, filial prayer, a right intention in all actions, and constant recourse to conversation with God throughout one’s day, offering up little prayers.

 

13_French master_conversion of Paul Artwork: Conversion of St. Paul, The Artist: UNKNOWN; French Master Date: C. 1200 Technique: Miniature on vellum Location: Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague Notes: From a Picture Bible with miniatures from Northwestern France (manuscript "Den Haag, KB, 76 F 5"). Psalter fragment? Subject: On the Way to Damascus Hosts: Museum Meermanno and Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague: Interactive Presentation of Handwritings [IMAGE]

January 25: THE CONVERSION OF ST. PAUL

This day marks the end of the Octave of the feast of the Confession of St. Peter. Peter and Paul are almost always commemorated together in the Church’s liturgical celebrations. This feast memorializes the event recorded in Paul’s own words, in Acts 22: “As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, `Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? And I answered, `Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, `I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.’” Saul had been a great persecutor of Christians until this moment, this personal encounter with the risen Christ. At Damascus, Saul would receive baptism at the hands of a man named Ananias. After spending time in solitude and prayer, Paul would begin his life’s work of proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ among the Gentiles, and spreading the faith throughout the known world. Paul’s work was completed in Rome, where he was beheaded under emperor Nero at a place called Aqua Salviae (now called Tre Fontane). He was buried nearby, along the Ostian Way. Emperor Constantine had a basilica erected over the place of his burial. The Basilica Church of St. Paul’s-Outside-The-Walls remains to this day, one of the four great ancient basilicas of Rome. In 2006, the Vatican announced that a sarcophagus had been discovered underneath the high altar of St. Paul’s-Outside-The-Walls with the inscription “Pavlo Apostolo Mart” – “[to] Paul the Apostle [and] Mart[yr]”.

 

0122timothyJanuary 26: St. Timothy

A companion and disciple of St. Paul the Apostle, and a bishop in the early Church, Timothy is addressed by Paul in two New Testament Epistles (1 Timothy and 2 Timothy). Timothy’s mother, Eunice, and his grandmother, Lois, are noted in Paul’s epistles as women well-regarded for their piety. Timothy practiced asceticism (1 Tim. 5.23) and was well-versed in holy Scripture (2 Tim. 3.15), and was ordained by Paul and made bishop of the city of Ephesus in the year 65. Timothy served in that capacity for 15 years. In the year 97, on January 22, Timothy opposed a pagan festival called the Katagogia, in which celebrants carried a heathen idol in one hand and a club in the other. The mob became enraged at the saint, and murdered him with stones and clubs. His relics were taken to Constantinople under emperor Constantius, where many miracles, healings and supernatural manifestations took place at his shrine. The Church of the Holy Apostles at Constantinople, where Timothy’s shrine was located, was destroyed by Muslims in the 15th century, and the Fatih Mosque was built on its ruins.

JohnchrysostomJanuary 27: John Chrysostom

John, born about the year 347 at Antioch, came to be called “chrysostomos” or “golden-mouthed” in Greek, because of his eloquence. He is said to be the greatest preacher ever to have lived, and is to the Eastern Churches what St. Augustine, his contemporary, is to the West. John’s father, an officer in the army, died when he was young, leaving him and his sister to be raised by their mother alone. She saw to it that John received the best education available to him, and he excelled in scholarship. John fell under the influence of Bishop Meleitus, and was baptized and ordained a Reader (one of the Church’s old “minor orders”) around the age of 20. John became a disciple of the theologian-monk Diodore of Tarsus, and himself became a monk, living for several years in extreme self-denial and prayer as a hermit in a cave outside Antioch. Eventually John returned to Antioch and was ordained to the sacred priesthood, and developed a reputation as an eloquent and affective preacher. Many pagans at Antioch came to faith in Christ as a result of John’s preaching. In 398, John was chosen to be bishop of Constantinople. He accepted reluctantly, but ruled effectively. He had a great love of the poor, and started several institutions for their relief. He was also an unsparing critic of the rich and powerful, and on that account fell into disfavor with Emperor Arcadius and his wife, Aelia Eudoxia, who had John banished to what is now the Republic of Georgia. John died en route. His relics were brought to Constantinople, where they remained until stolen by the crusaders in the 13th century. They were returned to the Greek Orthodox by Pope John Paul II in 2004. John’s skull and right hand are now venerated at Vatopedi Monastery on Mt. Athos in Greece. Many of John’s writings survive. He is known as a great expositor of the Bible, and his preaching is marked by simple application of Biblical principles to every-day life.

thomasaquinasJanuary 28: Thomas Aquinas

Thomas was arguably the greatest systematic theologian ever to have lived. He was born to a noble family at Roccasecca in central Italy around the year 1225. It is said that a hermit foretold his career before his birth. At the age of 5, Thomas was sent to study under the Benedictine monks at the great abbey of Monte Cassino. From an early age he showed great scholastic assiduity and great devotion to God in prayer. He continued his studies at Naples, and during his early 20’s, received the habit of a poor friar of St. Dominic, much to his family’s chagrin. His brothers even sent a fille de joie to his rooms in an attempt to entice him. Thomas drove the girl from his presence with a firebrand. Thomas made his way to Cologne, where he continued his studies under St. Albertus Magnus, the most renowned scholar of his day. Thomas was large and quiet, and his fellow-students called him the “Dumb Ox”. Hearing of this, Albertus is said to have remarked, “You may call him the dumb ox, but one day his teaching will produce such a bellowing that it will be heard throughout the world.” From Cologne, Thomas went to the University of Paris, where he received the degree Doctor of Theology. He then embarked on a life of prayer, travel, preaching, teaching, and writing. He was much in demand as a lecturer and teacher, and became famous for his learning and eloquence. His chief work, the Summa Theologica, is generally considered the greatest systematic exposition of Christian theology ever written. While praying, Thomas was often seen by the friars to be in ecstasy. These ecstasies intensified toward the end of his life. One day, while saying mass, Thomas was seen to be in ecstasy, after which his secretary, Father Reginald, urged Thomas to continue writing; the saint replied “Reginald, I can do no more. Such secrets have been revealed to me that all I have written now appears to me as straw.” Thomas grew very weak. Summoned by the pope to assist at a council at Lyons aimed at the reconciliation of the Eastern and Western Churches, Thomas collapsed at the Castle of Maienza, the home of his niece, the Countess Francesca Ceccano. He was taken to the Cistercian Monastery of Fossa Nuova, which was nearby. As he was being carried in, Thomas whispered “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have chosen it” (Psalm 134.14). Thomas was given last rites, and after receiving holy communion, professed “…I firmly believe and know as certain that Jesus Christ, true god and true Man, Son of God and Son of the Virgin Mary, is in this sacrament… I receive you, the price of my redemption, for Whose love I have watched, studied, and labored. You have I preached; You have I taught. Never have I said anything against You: if anything was not well said, that is to be attributed to my ignorance. Neither do I wish to be obstinate in my opinions, but if I have written anything erroneous concerning this sacrament or other matters, I submit all to the judgment and correction of the Holy Roman Church, in whose obedience I now pass from this life.” Thomas died on March 7, 1274. His sanctity was attested by many miracles, and he was canonized in 1323. Thomas’s shrine at the University of Paris was destroyed during the French Revolution, though his relics were moved to the church of St. Sernin Desprez at Toulouse, to the Cathedral at Naples, and to the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva at Rome.

 

holy cross sermon for the second sunday after christmas day, january 3, 2016

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

Today’s Gospel reading sets before us the flight of the Holy Family into Egypt, in the face of the tyranny of Herod. Herod was the Jewish King – a puppet king appointed by the Romans. And therefore, when he hears from the Magi about the birth of Jesus – “born King of the Jews” (Matthew 2.2) – he gets nervous, thinking that Jesus is a potential rival, a threat to his position.

This leads to the sorry episode that we commemorate liturgically on Dec. 28 – the massacre of the Holy Innocents. When the Magi tell Herod that the newborn king is from Bethlehem, Herod orders all the male children under two-years-old in Bethlehem to be killed. If you were paying close attention, you will have noticed that there were verses omitted from today’s Gospel reading. As follows (Matthew 2.16-18):

“Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:

“ ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled,
because they were no more.’ ”

But today’s Gospel lesson tells us that Joseph was warned of the danger in a dream, and that the Holy Family fled to Egypt, and so the infant Jesus was spared. Note the irony in all of this. The one who came to save mankind begins his life by being saved himself, from one very wicked man. The one who came to die in the place of the children of men begins his life with all the male children in the region of Bethlehem being killed in his place.

Be that as it may, Matthew notes that when Herod dies, Joseph hears about it, and brings Mary and Jesus back from Egypt, so fulfilling the prophecy from Hosea: “Out of Egypt have I called my son,” (Hosea 11.1).

I want to talk a little bit about the spiritual significance of the flight of the holy family to Egypt. What does it show us?

First of all, it shows us God’s preference for the poor, the anonymous, the humble, and the small. This is the tenor of the Gospels throughout, and these have been hallmarks of what is most integrally “Christian” all along: poverty, anonymity, humility, smallness. In fact, last week in the “Rector’s Study Group,” we came in our discussion of Fr. Hopko’s “55 Maxims for Christian Living” to maxim number 31: “Be simple, hidden, quiet, and small.” The holy family’s flight to Egypt exemplifies this maxim, I think. They are simple, hidden, quiet, and small. And it’s an especially good thing they were hidden and quiet, otherwise Herod might have found them.

But its not just for practical reasons that we have a preference for being like the holy family: simple, hidden, quiet, and small. Its also because living this way is consistent with what we profess to believe: that Jesus’ kingdom is not from this world, and that our orientation, our purpose, our values, are not to be found here. It shows that we are oriented toward heaven, and therefore away from the world – away from loud music, and partying, and money, and all the rest – the source of things one would have found in Herod’s court – the sorts of things one finds everywhere today. But in contrast, our joy comes from heaven. Our purpose comes from heaven. We are about heaven’s business, come what may.

During the first centuries of Christianity, when the Roman authorities were persecuting Christians – arresting them, and sometimes killing them – a coda for how Christians are to behave in the face of persecution was developed. Christians were forbidden to seek martyrdom. This was first of all because Christians must always be life-affirming, and the affirmation of life surely must begin with recognizing the inviolability of my own life; recognizing that I didn’t give myself life, and that therefore the prerogative to take life from myself does not rightfully belong to me either. Our lives are in God’s hands. Always were; always will be. And its incumbent upon us to live this way. And this also means that we should not put ourselves needlessly into dangerous situations – situations that could lead to our being killed or injured. We should neither harm, nor needlessly RISK harming our own bodies.

The accounts of the early martyrs are filled with stories that make this point. About how some who violated this coda wound up apostatizing when they were put in the dock or faced with torture. And also about how the true martyrs never sought to be martyred, although they accepted it bravely when it was unavoidable. Polycarp, for example, the aged bishop of Smyrna, quietly went hiding from house to house when he heard that the authorities were looking to arrest him, until he was too tired to keep running, and finally they caught him and killed him. He didn’t run because he was scared – on the contrary: it was because he honored the sanctity of his own life as a gift from God, and because he had been entrusted with a vocation to fulfill, as the leader of the Christian community, and he meant to keep doing it as long as he could. And he remained strong to the very end, and sang praises to God when they finally put him in the fire.

This kind way of living is also in keeping with what our Lord said about violence: “Do not resist one who is evil. But if any one strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also,” (Matt. 5.39). And Paul said the same thing. Christians aren’t supposed to return violence with violence, but to “overcome evil with good,” (Rom. 12.21). Granted, sometimes there’s no choice, and this is why the Church has a so-called “just war tradition” – to which we have recourse especially when we find ourselves in positions of power and are thus in a position to help people who can’t help themselves.

But it must be emphasized that the Christian commitment to non-violence, to always affirming the dignity of all human life, even the lives of our enemies, from the moment of conception until natural death – we don’t teach it and believe it and seek to live it, out of cowardice or weakness. Our commitment to non-violence should be muscular and robust and provocative. Bp. Robert Barron gave three examples (in his “Catholicism” series) of this that I would like to relate them to you – three examples that really show up how we can live-out what we see in the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt – getting on with our vocation in small and humble and non-violent, but at the same time muscular and provocative ways, in the face of the world’s evil.

The first is of Desmond Tutu, sometime Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, in South Africa. During apartheid, when Tutu was a priest, he was walking along a narrow sidewalk when a white man, a well-known racist, came walking in the other direction. They stopped when they reached each other, and the white man said, “I don’t step aside for gorillas.” Fr. Tutu stepped off of the sidewalk into the mud and gestured for the man to continue on, and said, “I do.”

The second one is Mother Teresa. Mother once took a poor, malnourished child in her arms in Calcutta, and went to a bakery to beg the owner for some bread. The man behind the counter spat in her face. Mother wiped the spit off of her face and said, “Thank you for that gift for me, now how about something for this child?” Nor can one forget how Mother Teresa was invited to give the commencement address at Harvard in 1982. She got up on stage and everyone was expecting her to speak about her famous work among the poor and hungry, and instead she spoke at length about hunger for the Word of God. She condemned abortion and went on and on about purity and chastity as great gifts for young people, and about the integrity of the family in our individualistic world. She concluded by saying: “My prayer for you is that you grow in that love for each other. That you grow in that likeness of Christ, in that holiness of Christ. Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simple duty for you and for me.” Amazing.

The third example is Pope John Paul II. In June of 1979 he went to visit Poland, his native country, which was then under repressive communist rule. The communist government was atheist, and openly hostile to Christianity. The government calculated that either the pope would abide by their rules during his visit, and thus set an example for the people to follow, making them more passive and governable; or he would spark an uprising, and the government could crush it and blame the pope for the suffering. They didn’t foresee what actually happened. People came out to see the pope by the millions. He celebrated mass on the vigil of Pentecost in Victory Square in Warsaw before a crowd of an estimated three million people. He preached about Christian solidarity in the face of oppression, and at the end of his homily, the crowd began to chant “We want God! We want God!” and the chanting went on and on for several minutes, as the pope smiled in the face of his bewildered government handlers. One author writes that Pope John Paul…

“…led the Polish people to desert their rulers by affirming solidarity with one another. The Communists managed to hold on as despots a decade longer. But as political leaders, they were finished. Visiting his native Poland in 1979, Pope John Paul II struck what turned out to be a mortal blow to its Communist regime, to the Soviet Empire, [and] ultimately to Communism.” (“Political Warfare: A Set of Means for Achieving Political Ends,” by Angelo M. Codevilla)

This is the muscular non-violence of Jesus’ gospel. This is what Mary and Joseph show us by getting on with their vocation and taking the infant Jesus to Egypt, not out of cowardice, but out of faith in God’s promises, even in the face of harassment and deprivation and danger. And this is what we are call called to do as disciples of Jesus.

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

announcements for january 1, 2016

Announcements:

Tuesday, January 5th:  There will be no noon mass.

Hagiographies:

HolyNameJanuary 1: The Holy Name of Jesus

This feast dates from the end of the 15th century, and had its origins Germany, Scotland, England, Spain, and Belgium. It is meant to encapsulate and sum up the mystery of our salvation in one commemoration; that life, reconciliation, healing, peace, and every good thing have one and only one source: Jesus. Today we set our minds on the abundance of all that God has done, is doing, and will do for us by, with, and in his only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

EpiphanyJanuary 6: The Epiphany

“Epiphany” comes from the Greek word for “revelation” or “manifestation”. On this day we celebrate the Lord’s manifestation of himself to the world, in two events. First is the manifestation of the Lord to the Wise Men, as recounted in Matthew 2. Traditionally the Church has seen in the arrival of the Wise Men to worship Jesus the manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles (the wise men were probably not Jews). Their arrival at the Christmas crib meant the beginning of the fulfillment of the Lord’s promises, through the prophets of the Old Testament, that the coming of the Messiah would mean redemption and salvation not merely for Israel, but for all the nations and tribes and peoples of the world. Secondly, we remember on this day the Lord’s Baptism at the hands of St. John the Baptist in the River Jordan. The Lord’s Baptism was the beginning of his public ministry. And it was at his Baptism when God the Father first bore visible witness to Jesus as the Anointed One, the beloved Son of God. Thus the Lord’s Baptism was all an “epiphany” of the God, as the identity of Jesus was disclosed to all those who looked on. It was traditional on this day, in the Western Church, to bless the houses of the faithful with chalk blessed by the priest. A formula was inscribed on the door, or the doorpost, of the house, comprised of the initials “C.M.B.” which stood for “Christus mansionem benedicat” – “May Christ bless this house” – along with the form of the cross, and the numerals of the current year. C, M, and B, are also first letters of the traditional names of the Magi: Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar.

announcements for friday, december 25, 2015

Announcements:

The Church office will be closed December 25th – January 5th.

Hagiographies:

Mary and Joseph kneel at the crib of the infant Christ in this detail of an icon from the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The Dec. 25 Christmas feast commemorates the birth of Christ. The Christmas season begins with the Dec. 24 evening vigil and ends on the feast of the Baptism of the Lord, Jan. 13 in 2008. (CNS photo/Debbie Hill) (Nov. 27, 2007)

December 25: The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ

On this day we remember the most momentous and miraculous event in the history of the cosmos: God, who created the world and all that is in it, became a man. He did this to repair the damage caused by sin, and to give himself to us, that we might be yoked to him in an inseparable bond of communion forever. Already the Child Christ is on his way to Calvary, to give himself for us, to show us the Father from whom we were estranged, and to make true peace and eternal life a reality for mankind.

StStephenDecember 26: St. Stephen

Stephen, a deacon in the during the Apostolic age of the Church, is called “protomartyr” because he is the first Christian to imitate the Lord in laying down his life for the Gospel. Acts chapters 6 and 7 relate that Stephen was tried by the Sanhedrin and convicted (because of false testimony) for blasphemy against the Jewish religion. During the trial, Stephen bore witness to Jesus as the Messiah, and had a vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. Upon hearing this, the religious leaders took him outside the city and stoned him to death. As he was dying, Stephen’s last words were “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7.59f). Acts further records that Saul (who would later become Saint Paul) attended the stoning and “was consenting to [Stephen’s] death” (Acts 8.1). The place of Stephen’s burial was unknown until it was revealed in a vision to a priest named Lucian in the year 415. Stephen’s relics were exhumed and taken to Mount Zion, and from there, in 460, to a church outside the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem, where according to tradition the stoning had taken place. The martyrdom of Saint Stephen marks the beginning of the world’s violent opposition to living faith in Jesus Christ; but little did his murderers suspect that the blood they shed would be the first drops to water a harvest of souls that would soon cover the face of the earth.

StJohnDecember 27: St. John

John was the brother of James the Greater, and together were often mentioned together and called “the sons of Zebedee” in the New Testament. Jesus named them “Boanerges” “sons of thunder”. Originally they were fishermen, along with their father, on the Sea of Galilee from whence Jesus called them to become his followers. Thereafter, along with Peter, they were the disciples closest to the Lord. These three are often mentioned as a group in the Gospels, and were the sole witnesses of a number of events (e.g. the Transfiguration of the Lord, Matt. 17.1). After the Lord’s resurrection and ascension, John appears to have been preeminent, after Peter, among the Apostolic leadership of the nascent Church; and he is often mentioned in Acts as accompanying Peter in Jerusalem. Eventually John went to Asia Minor (modern Turkey), where he preached the Gospel, and established churches which he led from Ephesus. The fourth Gospel and the Epistles of John are the fruit of this leadership. John is the only of the twelve Apostles not to have suffered martyrdom. He lived to a very great age, and several of the Apostolic Fathers, whose writings survive, knew him and mention him in their writings (among them Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch, and Justin Martyr). He died around the year 100 at Ephesus.

Holy InnocentsDecember 28: The Holy Innocents

In England called “Chidermas”, on this feast we remember the male children under the age of two whom the tyrannical king Herod slaughtered in Bethlehem upon hearing from the Wise Men that the Messiah, “King of the Jews” (and therefore, so he thought, a rival) had been born in that town. In contemporary chronicles of King Herod’s other bloody deeds, the massacre of the Holy Innocents is conspicuously unremarked-upon. This silence is explained by the fact that in the first century Bethlehem was a tiny town, and therefore that in the light of the atrocities committed by Herod on a grander scale (including the beheading of his own adult son), the massacre at Bethlehem seemed unremarkable. Modern scholars have suggested that the number of children killed was likely to have been fewer than 15. The Church venerates these innocents as the first people to die for Christ, and not only FOR him, but because Herod was seeking to kill the Messiah, in the place of Jesus. Since antiquity, the Roman church of St. Paul’s Outside the Walls has been said to possess relics of several of the Holy Innocents. In many churches in England, during the Middle Ages, a “boy bishop” was elected who officiated at the feast of the Holy Innocents (as well as St. Nicholas’ Day on Dec. 6). The boy “bishop” would wear a mitre and other pontifical regalia, would sit in the bishop’s throne, sing the collect at mass, preach, and give the blessing at the end of mass.


ThomasBecketDecember 29: St. Thomas Becket

Born around the year 1118 at London, Thomas studied Theology at London and Paris and was a rising star on the political scene of the 12th century. Known for his piety and self-denial even during his secular career, Thomas took deacon’s orders in 1154, and was ordained priest on June 2, 1162; and was consecrated bishop the next day. The King, Henry II, desired St. Thomas to be Archbishop of Canterbury. Their relations were strained from the outset, and when Henry insisted that criminal clergy be tried in secular courts, St. Thomas refused – not because he wanted undue leniency for clergy, but by way of preserving the independence of the Church from the secular state. In 1170, four knights entered Canterbury Cathedral demanding that St. Thomas lift the sentence of excommunication he had issued against two bishops. What happened next was recorded later by Edward Grim, a visiting cleric, and an eyewitness whose own arm was cut off when he tried to defend St. Thomas: two monks “hastened to close the doors of the church in order to bar the enemies from slaughtering the bishop, but the wondrous athlete turned toward them and ordered that the doors be opened. “It is not proper,” he said, “that a house of prayer, a church of Christ, be made a fortress since although it is not shut up, it serves as a fortification for his people; we will triumph over the enemy through suffering rather than by fighting – and we come to suffer, not to resist.” Without delay the sacrilegious men entered the house of peace and reconciliation with swords drawn… [St. Thomas said,] “Here I am ready to suffer in the name of He who redeemed me with His blood; God forbid that I should flee on account of your swords or that I should depart from righteousness.” With these words – at the foot of a pillar – he turned to the right. On one side was the altar of the blessed mother of God, on the other the altar of the holy confessor Benedict – through whose example and prayers he had been crucified to the world and his lusts; he endured whatever the murderers did to him with such constancy of the soul that he seemed as if he were not of flesh. The murderers pursued him and asked, “Absolve and restore to communion those you have excommunicated and return to office those who have been suspended.” To these words [Thomas] replied, “No penance has been made, so I will not absolve them.” “Then you,” they said, “will now die and will suffer what you have earned.” “And I,” he said, “am prepared to die for my Lord, so that in my blood the church will attain liberty and peace; but in the name of Almighty God I forbid that you hurt my men, either cleric or layman, in any way.” The invincible Martyr…with his neck bent as if he were in prayer and with his joined hands elevated above – commended himself and the cause of the Church to God, St. Mary, and the blessed martyr St. Denis. He had barely finished speaking when the impious knight…  suddenly set upon him and, shaving off the summit of his crown which the sacred chrism consecrated to God, he wounded the sacrificial lamb of God in the head…. then, with another blow received on the head, [Thomas yet] remained firm. But with the third the stricken martyr bent his knees and elbows, offering himself as a living sacrifice, saying in a low voice, “For the name of Jesus and the protection of the church I am ready to embrace death.” But the third knight inflicted a grave wound on the fallen one; with this blow he shattered the sword on the stone, and his crown, which was large, separated from his head so that the blood turned white from the brain yet no less did the brain turn red from the blood; it purpled the appearance of the church with the colors of the lily and the rose, the colors of the Virgin and Mother and the life and death of the confessor and martyr.”    Thomas was immediately revered as a martyr, and was canonized by Pope Alexander III just three years after his murder. King Henry II expressed contrition for his part in the murder, and did public penance, submitting himself to be scourged at St. Thomas’ tomb at Canterbury. Countless miracles were reported by people praying at the tomb, and it became one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in medieval Europe. During the Reformation, however, in September of 1538, the tomb was desecrated by order of the crown, and St. Thomas’s bones were destroyed. St. Thomas Becket is patron of Exeter College, Oxford; and of secular (i.e. non-monastic) clergy.

StSylvesterDecember 31: St. Sylvester

Sylvester was pope during the reign of the first Christian emperor, Constantine, and was pope during the first ecumenical Council of Nicea. Thus he presided over the Catholic Church during a time of transition from the era of Christianity’s persecution to its toleration and vast expansion in the Roman Empire. During St. Sylvester’s pontificate many of the great churches of Rome (which are still there) were built, including St. John Lateran, Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, and St. Peter’s Basilica.

holy cross sermon for the second sunday of advent, december 6, 2015

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

Today’s Gospel reading speaks of St. John the Baptist, the forerunner of our Lord. In doing so, the mind turns toward the historicity of it all. Recall how last week this theme of history was brought forward by the Gospel reminding us of our situation between the two “Apocalypses” of Christ – his two revelations – the one, now in the past, when he was born of the Virgin Mary and laid in a manger, so that it might be possible for mankind to “behold his glory” (cf. John 1.14) – to see the One who is by nature invisible, to hear the One who by nature dwells in silence, and to touch the One who by nature is immutable, impassable. And the other of us in time, or rather, as John Henry Newman said, the apocalypse that lies ever close at hand, for Christ is “ever at our doors; as near [two thousand] years ago as now, and not nearer now than then; and not nearer when He comes than now.”

Time – history – gets all jumbled up and turned around when you’re a Christian, living life in the Church. For example: although Jesus became incarnate at a particular moment in time, in the past, nevertheless his nativity lies ahead of us in time as well, because he will be born, as it were, in our midst here, at our commemoration of his Nativity in some two weeks’ time. And he will come again with power and great glory. He has come, and he is coming.

 

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiber’i-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae’a and Trachoni’tis, and Lysa’ni-as tetrarch of Abile’ne, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca’iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari’ah in the wilderness…” (Luke 3.1-2)

All of this prologue stuff is meant to situate the ensuing narrative HISTORICALLY. Its as though Luke were saying that at THIS juncture in the space-time continuum the following things took place. One might be tempted to think that this is axiomatic, or that it is incidental, or even beside the point. Why, in other words, would God’s word lay down something so mundane so emphatically? It’s a little strange, if you stop to think about it.

 

I had a discussion with an unbelieving friend not long ago. My friend was engaging in one of the nineteenth century’s more popular intellectual pastimes: he was comparing the events narrated in the Gospels with those of other mythologies. One thinks, in this regard, of James George Frazier’s The Golden Bough. My friend was suggesting that the Christian Gospels had ripped-off the motifs of competitor mythologies extant during the first century, and repackaged them with reference to Jesus – for the purpose of elaborating them, or critiquing them, or supplanting them. But in any event, if that were the case, then what is of lasting significance in the Gospels, if there is anything at all of lasting significance in them, has to do with the MESSAGE or the MORAL or the KNOWLEDGE that they package and convey to us. And this message or moral or knowledge, or whatever… THE POINT OF THE STORY can obviously be apprehended independently of whether or not it actually happened in history. According to my friend, in other words, it doesn’t matter whether Jesus really did all of these things and said all these things, or even whether he ever really existed. What matters is the message about new life and loving your neighbor and forgiving your enemies and so forth. And to grasp these important points, you don’t really need Jesus at all – all you really need are STORIES about him.

Even if these sentiments were plausible – and they are not – they are at odds with what the Gospels themselves say. And this is at the center of what is in evidence in today’s reading from Luke. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiber’i-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae’a and Trachoni’tis, and Lysa’ni-as tetrarch of Abile’ne, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca’iaphas,”… AT THAT MOMENT OF HISTORY, Luke is saying, the word of God came to the forerunner of Christ, in the wilderness of Judea. “[A]nd [John the Baptist] went into all the region about the Jordan, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins,” (Luke 3.3). Because the King of Kings was about to come onto the timeline of the universe, to become historically situated, in order to accomplish what Israel’s prophets had foretold.

The efforts of James George Frazier, and my unbelieving friend, and their intellectual counterparts in the modern world, to try and get ABOVE the narrative of the Gospel, to place it alongside competitor narratives, competitor mythologies, like specimens on a laboratory table, to be dissected and critiqued, are all vain. The narratives with which we have to do, the Gospel narratives, do not allow us that space. When THE REALITY OF THE PERSON OF JESUS is cut out of them, there’s nothing left of any use to anyone.

 

What the Gospels tell us – and it is there to be believed or disbelieved, but in any event, it is not there to be salvaged for parts – what the Gospels tell us is that, in the words of WH Auden, the eternal “did a temporal act / the infinite became a finite fact.” They purport to tell us that these things REALLY HAPPENED at a particular time and place – to the end that we humans might, for the first time, have the opportunity to become really ALIVE. In the words of St. John’s Gospel, Jesus did all kinds of things that are not recorded in the Gospels, but the things that have been recorded in them, “are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing YOU MAY HAVE LIFE in his name,” (John 20.31).

Its not enough, however, just to believe that these things happened. As James said, “Even the demons believe – and shudder,” (James 2.19). Its true that we have to BEGIN with a belief in the veracity of what the Gospels say; or at least we can’t move on if we don’t believe in this way. But we can’t stop there. If we would have life in his name, as Paul said, we hace to become “conformed to the image” of Jesus (Romans 8.29). We have to somehow become incorporated into the very person of Jesus – into his living, breathing reality – and obviously, whatever that might mean, it can’t happen if he never really existed. So how DOES it happen? According to the Scriptures, it begins by being baptized. In baptism (and the related sacrament of Confirmation), according to Paul, we mystically die and rise with Christ, and are enabled to live a new kind of life, a life governed by God and empowered by his Spirit.

But note well that being conformed to the image of God’s Son, living “in Christ” means living a life IN COMMUNION with others. And this is not an abstraction – its a reality lived-out HERE, in this place, and by this group of people, a life that is made possible and dynamic by our gathering together in this place for the mass, for “the breaking of the bread,” Sunday by Sunday, and day by day. That’s how the reality of our incorporation into Christ’s Body is effected, and also how it is demonstrated. Scripture puts it this way:

“The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a PARTICIPATION in the blood of Christ? The  bread which we break, is it not a PARTICIPATION in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread…” (1 Cor. 10.16-17)

We become one Body in Christ because “we all partake of the one bread.” That’s how it happens, and we know of no other way. You can’t do it on your own, by sitting at home, and reading and praying and listening to Joyce Meyers and doing yoga, as good as those things may (or may not) be. They are good to the extent that they grow out of, and into, gathering together to offer and receive Christ’s Body and Blood. But it doesn’t even end there. Because every time we gather in this place to break the bread and share the cup, we go out again – we “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” – out there, in the context of our daily lives, our work, our recreation, and our relationships. We have to put into practice OUT THERE what we hear and receive IN HERE. That is how we are conformed to the image of God’s son. That is how we “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,” (Ephesians 4.13). That is how we are SAVED. And we know of no other way.

But it is all grounded in the historicity – the TRUTH – of the events of the Incarnation, recorded in the Gospels. Its all made possible because it all REALLY HAPPENED. That’s why the evangelists take such pains to relate these things to us. Because if these narratives are not true, then the rest of it is at best a bunch of weird rituals – and at worst a mountain of pernicious lies. But we give thanks to God for laying a foundation for our salvation; we thank him that what we read and receive IS true, that…

“In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiber’i-us Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of the region of Iturae’a and Trachoni’tis, and Lysa’ni-as tetrarch of Abile’ne, in the high-priesthood of Annas and Ca’iaphas, the word of God came to John the son of Zechari’ah in the wilderness…”

…so that we might have live, and have it abundantly, the life of God’s only and eternal Son.

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

holy cross sermon for all saints’ day, november 1, 2015

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

Today is the feast of All Saints. The word “saint” comes from the Latin word “sanctus,” which means “holy.” The traditional English name for this feast was “All Hallows,” from the native English word “hallow,” also meaning “holy,” as in the Lord’s Prayer, where we say, “Hallowed be thy name,” meaning, “may your name be holy.” This traditional, English form, “All Hallows,” survives most familiarly in our word for the evening preceding All Hallows Day – namely, “All Hallows Eve” or “Halloween.”

Be that as it may, this feast, always on November 1, is a major feast day – a “Solemnity” as Catholics now say – in the life of the Church. A feast so big that it supersedes the normal Sunday liturgical celebration in those years when November 1st falls on a Sunday, as it does today.

So what’s different about today? (“Why is this night different from all other nights?”) What are we supposed to notice today? Today we remember that we are not alone in our practice of the faith – that we are, in the words of the letter to the Hebrews, surrounded by a “great cloud of witnesses,” fellow disciples of the Lord Jesus. We are part of a community, part of a FAMILY – one that is even more real than our biological family; and our ties to THIS family are even more binding, even if they are harder to see.

Think about it. The eternal Son of God came down from heaven. He took flesh in the womb of the virgin Mary. He became a human. He became one of us. (How awesome is this mystery!) And he said that everyone who is faithful to God becomes a member of his family. Jesus said: “[W]hoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother, and sister…” (Matthew 12.50). Doing the will of God, in the power of God’s Son, acting in FAITH, means that we become siblings of God’s only Son. And this is what enables us to call God, “Our Father.” God is not automatically “our Father.”  He becomes our Father when we become the adopted brothers and sisters of Jesus, who is God’s only Son.

But the point of this day, All Saints, is to remember that we are not alone in this. I am not God’s only Son. That’s Jesus. But by becoming Jesus’ brother, not only do I receive God as my Father, but I receive Mary as my mother, and I receive an enormous family – brothers and sisters stretching all around the world, and all down through the centuries. “All Saints” become my siblings, my family. Jesus said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children…” (Mark 10.29f).

That’s why we venerate the saints. That’s why we remember them liturgically (why we have special services with special prayers for them) – why we celebrate the mass, day by day, here at this church, on the anniversaries of their “heavenly birthdays.” Its why we put all that information about their lives, their deaths, where their bodies are buried and so forth, in the leaflet every Sunday. So that we can get to know the family from whom we are estranged apart from Jesus. This coming week we are going to celebrate St. Charles Borromeo, and Ss. Elizabeth and Zachariah, for example.

But it didn’t take long in the history of the Church for there to be just too many saints for each of them to be commemorated on the calendar. After all, there are only 365 days each year. So “All Saints” became the day on which we remember them all together – and to remember the fact that there are lots of saints who were never famous, who lived humble, anonymous lives, otherwise officially unrecognized by the Church. I suspect my grandmother was one, and I suspect you’ve known a few too – Christians whose lives were tied so closely to Jesus that they became unnaturally pure, holy, suffused with joy and peace, heroically virtuous. I think I have known a few. Today we remember and honor all of them.

But as I said, we don’t just remember and honor them, but we are also here to remember that THEY HAVE A CLAIM ON US. That’s what being part of a family means. If the mere fact remains a mere fact, if it doesn’t carry over in any practical way into our lives, if it doesn’t CHANGE anything, then in a sense its pointless. What difference does it make if you are a Rockefeller or a Hunt or a Plantagenet, if those family associations don’t change anything about your life?

The saints of God – our brothers and sisters down through the centuries – have come from every conceivable background, and lived every conceivable kind of life. There are saints who had been doctors, nurses, businessmen, kings and queens, soldiers, paupers, homeless people, butchers, farmers, and amateur radio operators. There are saints who had been thieves and brigands and adulterers and murderers. There are even some who were priests. What ties them together is a decision at some point in their lives to follow Jesus, to do the will of God, to the exclusion of everything else, no matter what – a decision to put God FIRST in their lives. The reason the Church commends them to us – to get to know them – is because we are bound to emulate them, to live lives worthy of our being part of this family.

This idea is radically at odds with modernity. The theologian Stanley Hauerwas said that Americans are those people who refuse to have any story other than the story they CHOOSE FOR THEMSELVES out of the condition of having no story. But that approach is radically at odds with Christianity. Because we are Christians, we have a story. Narrated first by the life and death of Jesus, and recapitulated in the lives of all his saints down the years. THAT story is our story.

I want to leave you with the words – on point – of a contemporary blogger (Rod Dreher):

“If you are a Christian and there is an area of your life that you have not submitted to the tradition, then you are not who you think you are. All of life is a struggle to surrender to God; those who do it most successfully we call saints.

“If you are a husband or a wife, then you must be so as a Christian — that is, not as a husband or a wife who happens also to be a Christian, but as a Christian husband, a Christian wife, in a Christian marriage. If you are a writer, you must be a Christian writer, even if you never write a thing about religion; the experience of living with the mind of Christ must inform everything you write. If you are an electrician, you must be a Christian electrician. No, there is not a Christian way to wire a building, but you must do the work you are called to do in the awareness that you are doing it in [the] sight of God, and as His servant, and as part of a Christian community to which you must be accountable.”

I remember hearing years ago an interview with one of the artisans building the National Cathedral. He was going to great efforts to carve intricate little filigrees and things all over the far side of a carving that was to be way up in the vaults of the ceiling. The interviewer was puzzled and asked him why he was putting so much effort into the reverse side of a distant carving that no one would ever see. The artisan responded: “God will see it.”

That’s what it means to be a saint. And that’s the pattern of decision-making and action that is worthy of a member of God’s family. Every action, every decision, every choice, undertaken in the awareness that God sees it, that it ought to be welling-pleasing to him. This is the duty laid on us by our family’s tradition. We are responsible for receiving, absorbing it, contending with it – and we are responsible for handing it on.

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

announcements for friday, october 30, 2015

Announcements:

October 31, 2015.  Daylight Savings Time ends Sunday morning. Don’t forget to set your clocks back one hour this Saturday night.

November 1, 2015:  This Sunday is a “first Sunday.” It also happens to be the feast of All Saints. There will be champagne and brunch in the parish hall after the mass. Its a good opportunity to invite a friend to church.

As November arrives, our pledge season begins for 2016. In the next couple of weeks pledge cards will arrive in the mail.  Please be as generous as you can to support the work and worship of our Holy Cross family.

We are working to improve the food pantry at Holy Cross.  This requires constant replenishing and we need everyone’s help.  Many have been contributing and we thank you.  It is our hope that others will become involved by adopting an item on a regular basis.  In our pantry (which is in the back hall of our Church by the kitchen) we have fruit, vegetables, soups, canned meats, grooming items, and miscellaneous items. Please stop by if you haven’t looked. This will give you some ideas. Your ongoing support will keep this pantry open and stocked with desirable items.  Every item helps.

Hagiographies:

all saintsNOVEMBER 1: ALL SAINTS

On this day we commemorate all the faithful departed, known and unknown, who have attained the beatific vision of God in heaven. During the age of persecutions, particularly during the ferocious persecutions of emperor Diocletian during the first years of the 4th century (the 300’s), there were so many Christian martyrs, that a separate liturgical commemoration for each one became impossible for local churches. The Church, desiring to honor every martyr, set aside a day for the heavenly birthday of “All Martyrs”. This practice is known as early as about the year 270 AD. November 1 was first set aside for such a commemoration for Western Christians by Pope Gregory III during the 730’s AD, who dedicated this day to honor the witness “of the holy apostles and of all the saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.” It was first made a Holy Day of Obligation, when all the faithful are expected to worship at Mass, during the reign of the Carolingian King Louis the Pious, and the pontificate of Pope Gregory IV in the mid 800’s AD. In normal Christian practice, major feasts begin on the evening before the feast itself, with the Evening Prayer of that day. Thus the evening before All Saints day, came to be celebrated as “All Hallows Eve” or “Halloween” (“hallow” or “holy” being the Old English word for the Latin word “Sanctus”, from which we get our word “Saint”).

all soulsNovember 2: Commemoration of All the Faithful Departed (All Souls Day)

Whereas All Saints Day is the day on which we remember all the dead who have attained the beatific vision, who are in heaven; All Souls Day is the day on which we remember “all who have died in the peace of Christ and those whose faith is known to you alone” (as we say in our liturgy). The Prayer Book’s mass preface for the Dead (Prayer Book p. 382) reminds us that for the faithful departed, “life is changed, not ended”, in other words: death marks a waypoint on our continuing journey to God, not a terminus. The Church calls this continuing journey “Purgatory”, because it involves a process of being “purged” of our imperfections – a process not qualitatively different from what the faithful undergo during life, as we continually repent and amend our lives, and as God draws us ever more closely to himself. So whereas on All Saints we remember the dead who have undergone this process and have become pure and holy, who have “arrived”; today we remember all the dead (especially those dear to us) who although dead, yet like ourselves remain pilgrims on the way to God, and we pray that God will continue to have mercy upon them, and bless them as they prepare to enter into his presence forever.

charlesborromeoNovember 4: Charles Borromeo

Born of an aristocratic family in 1538, Charles’s uncle became Pope Pius IV. From an early age, Charles showed great liberality to the poor. He studied civil and canon law at Pavia, and in 1559 took a doctoral degree. Pope Pius made him a protonotary apostolic (a high ranking prelate of the Roman curia) and a cardinal at the age of 22. Shortly thereafter he was raised to the Archepiscopacy of Milan. Though living in great splendor as an archbishop, Charles continued to show great generosity and concern for the poor. He founded schools, notably at Milan and Pavia. He employed himself likewise in answering the errors of the Reformers, and facilitated the final deliberations of the counter-reforming Council of Trent. Nor did he neglect his own diocese. Unlike his predecessors, Charles took a hands-on interest in the affairs of Milan, making pastoral visitations, and ensuring that all was done decently and in order. He founded seminaries and schools for the clergy, and ensured the conformity of his churches to the reforms of Trent. In 1576, as Plague swept through Milan, Charles busied himself with care for the sick and dying, and the burial of the dead. He made frequent visits to places where the plague raged most fiercely, seemingly insensible to the danger posed to himself, and ensuring that the clergy were discharging their responsibilities. His labors and austerities may have shortened his life. He contracted and unshakable fever, and died on November 3, 1584. He was canonized in 1610.

elizabethandzacheriaNovember 5: Elizabeth and Zachariah

The Gospel of Luke includes an account of John’s infancy, introducing him as the son of Zachariah and Elizabeth, who previously “had no child, because Elizabeth was barren, and they were both well advanced in years”. His birth, name, and office were foretold by the angel Gabriel to Zachariah, while Zachariah was performing his functions as a priest in the temple of Jerusalem. According to Luke, Zachariah was a priest of the course of Abijah, and his wife, Elizabeth, was of the daughters of Aaron; consequently John automatically held the priesthood of Aaron. St. Luke states that John was born about six months before Jesus. Zachariah had lost his speech at the behest and prophecy of the angel Gabriel, and it was restored on the occasion of Zachariah naming John. On the basis of Luke’s account, the Catholic calendar placed the feast of John the Baptist on June 24, six months before Christmas. According to Luke, Jesus and John the Baptist were related, their mothers being cousins.

 

holy cross sermon for the twenty-second sunday after pentecost, october 25, 2015

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

In today’s Gospel, we hear the story of Jesus healing Bartimae’us, a blind beggar. There are a number of lessons that may be drawn from this passage. I would like to point out three.

Firstly, notice the Lord’s preference for the marginal. Bartimae’us is both sick and poor. The crowds tell him to be quiet when he calls out to Jesus for mercy, but “Jesus stopped and said, ‘Call him.’”

If this is how the Lord treats people on the margins of our society, then how should his disciples behave? This is a lesson that the Lord reinforces throughout the gospels. And the apostles took up the message too. The opening verses of the third chapter of the epistle of James say:

“My brethren, show no partiality as you hold the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man with gold rings and in fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, ‘Have a seat here, please,’ while you say to the poor man, ‘Stand there,’ or, ‘Sit at my feet,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brethren. Has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor man. Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme that honorable name which was invoked over you? If you really fulfil the royal law, according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’ you do well. But if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors.”

And note that the message is not so much that its great to be poor and sick, but that no partiality is to be shown. The criteria by which we, as disciples of Jesus, esteem people are not the world’s criteria. The fact of the matter is that how much money we have, how pretty we are, how able-bodied we are – none of that has anything to do with our standing before God. Nor should it have anything to do with the standing of anyone in the Church.

Which brings me to my second point. Jesus’ attitude toward Bartimaeus is on account of his FAITH. When Jesus heals him, he says to him, “Go your way; your FAITH has made you well.” Bartimaeus BELIEVED Jesus. He shows that he believes Jesus by the fact that he calls Jesus the “Son of David,” the legitimate King of Israel – and more significantly by the fact that he comes to Jesus to be healed in the first place. He wouldn’t be coming to be healed if he didn’t believe that Jesus had the power to heal him.

Bartimaeus’ faith undergirds his actions. That’s how it should be with us. We should ACT as though what we say about Jesus were true. I think most of us don’t – and I include myself in that rebuke. How might your life be different, in terms of the things you do, the choices you make, if you REALLY BELIEVED to your marrow, that Jesus is the Son of God, that he really rose from the dead, that he really will come to judge you? These basic truths of the faith, which we affirm “officially,” as in the Nicene Creed at mass, should make a difference in the way we live our lives. But to what extent do they, really?

Thirdly – and this is what might be called a “spiritual interpretation” – notice that the passage says that Bartimaeus is “sitting by the roadside.” He is static. He’s not going anywhere, even though he is right there next to the path that Jesus is travelling. Part of the problem is definitely that he’s blind. But I think the passage hints that there’s another problem.

Jesus calls Bartimaeus, and it says that “throwing off his mantle he sprang up and came to Jesus. And Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’”

The mantle is a symbol of his old self, his old patterns of action and decision-making, which might have been governed by despair, or self-pity, or pride, or any number of things. But in the presence of Jesus, Bartimaeus throws these things away and comes to the Lord. And Jesus says to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

On the surface, that’s a strange question for an omnipotent being to ask a blind beggar. It would seem obvious that he would want to be healed. But the conspicuous strangeness of the question, in light of the facts, invites us to pause and consider. (When you see weird things like that in Scripture, it usually means there’s something deeper going on that you should pay attention to – that there are important questions you should be asking.) Maybe its not so obvious that Bartimaeus WOULD want to be healed. Maybe he had eked out a living for a long time by being a blind beggar. Maybe suddenly getting healed would cut off the only means of getting by that he had ever known. Maybe it would mean that he would suddenly have new responsibilities, that he would have to find something new to do with himself. Maybe that was a frightening prospect. And maybe Jesus was saying to him, “Are you sure you want to be healed? And that you want all the responsibilities and ramifications that come with being healed? If I take away your infirmity, your self-pity goes with it. If I take away your infirmity, your anger at people who don’t help you is no longer going to be justified. If I take away your infirmity, God is going to expect things from you that he does not expect now. Are you sure you’re ready for that? Do you really want to be healed?”

This applies to all of us. And not just with respect to being healed of physical infirmities. It applies especially to forgiving others, and not nursing grudges. If you forgive people from your heart, you’re going to give up your right not to be injured. Is that something you really want?

Bartimaeus shows us the right answer: “Master, let me receive my sight.” “Let me be healed.” And notice that the very last verse of the reading reveals what the new responsibility is that Bartimaeus embraces – it shows exactly the thing that God now expects of him. It says that “immediately” Bartimaeus followed Jesus on the road that he had just been sitting beside up to that point.

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

holy cross sermon for the twenty-first sunday after pentecost, october 18, 2015

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

In today’s readings the central, challenging mystery of the Gospel begins to become clear, a mystery hidden since the foundation of the world, but one that had been becoming clearer and clearer throughout the history of Israel, and by the revelation of the prophets: that God is a god of love; that, as Jesus, says elsewhere, quoting the prophet Hosea, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice” (Matt. 9.13, cf. Hosea 6.6). This is the most central theological truth, and the one that makes Christianity totally unique in the catalogue of religions: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” (1 John 4.16).

The whole edifice of our faith, Christian spiritual practices, as well as what we like to think of as the “moral” or “ethical” code by which we are bound as disciples of Jesus, can be rightly understood only as a marinating in, and a living-out of this truth. To inhabit this mystery is what it means to be saved, what it means to become like God. “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”

In today’s Gospel lesson, two of the disciples make a reasonable request of the Lord: “And James and John, the sons of Zeb’edee, came forward to him, and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory’” (Mark 10.35-37).

It might perhaps annoy us a little bit when we read this, the presumption of these two disciples and their attempt to cut to the front of the line. But if it annoys us – and it probably should – it does so because the same impulse lies in our own hearts.

It becomes clear that James and John have misunderstood the meaning of the coming of the Kingdom, which Jesus had spent several years proclaiming. And its really no surprise: the whole purpose of his coming might, in a sense, be understood to be to clear up this confusion which is built into the human condition and which colors our conception of ourselves and of the world and of our relationships with one another. It is the self-seeking and violence that lies in our hearts, and on the foundation of which we organize our individual lives, as well as our cultural forms.

It is for this reason that the eyes of James and John were veiled to the truth. “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.” We ask the Lord for the same thing, and in the same spirit, when we ask him for earthly goods – for temporal fulfillment of whatever sort, when we ask him that he grant us to “win” – to become successful – on the world’s terms – to get rich or famous or influential, to marry the star quarterback or the captain of the cheerleading squad.

“But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking,’” (v. 38). We do not know what we are asking. As Jesus told Pilate, the Kingdom of God is not of this world (cf. John 18.36). And its coming is according to the expectations of neither the world nor the flesh.

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” The Lord is here indicating the cup of his suffering and the baptism of his death, which are bearing down on him, and he indicates this when he points out that James and John will indeed both drink his cup and share his baptism, though not in the way that they suppose. But the Lord will be crowned, robed, sceptered, and hailed as a king, when he comes to the cross. And on his right hand and on his left there will be two thieves, “those for whom it has been prepared” (v. 40).

The cross is scandalous. And we must confess that the spectacle of Golgotha is not the kingdom of God we have come to expect, because we have internalized the world’s priorities and made them our own. We expect God to triumph through some progressive ascendency, and we expect our participation in his triumph to be by means of some vindication in the world’s eyes, some victory that all can see and recognize. At the level of human society, as I have said before, we expect the Messiah to come riding an army tank or administering a social program – or to come into our personal lives carrying sacks of cash.

We do well to expect the Lord’s vindication to be brought forth as the light, and his just-dealing as the noonday (Ps. 37.6). But we do poorly to assume that our eyes can see it, or our ears can hear it. Nevertheless: there is the Lord’s vindication and justice, reigning from the tree. And the perception of an open heart, a broken and contrite heart (which is the only thing God wants from us), looks on this spectacle, sees the truth, and weeps tears of repentance, realizing that this is what it takes to set us free from the mess we have made.

 

Jesus came precisely to set us free from these our delusions about what the Kingdom, the power, and the glory mean; from the lies we tell ourselves about the genesis of our desire; from the government of envy and violence, and from the despair and the death to which our delusions give rise.

But – thanks be to God! – “we have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4.15-16).

Jesus not only diagnoses the problem, but he gives us the means of overcoming it: by drinking his cup, and being baptized with his baptism. Or, as he says succinctly elsewhere, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8.34). Envy and pride, the roots of our problem, are overcome by humility and self-emptying. In the value- system within which we live, humility and self-emptying are almost inevitably met with violent opposition, because they shed light on the deception by which this world’s Kingdom of violence and death holds sway.

The solution is, as ever, to come to Jesus and allow him to make us like him, by the gift of the Holy Spirit. We see this in the Gospel reading today: “And Jesus CALLED THEM TO HIM… and said to them, ‘You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of man also came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many’” (Mark 10.42ff).

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

announcements for friday, october 2, 2015

Announcements:

  • We will be hosting the Society of Mary tomorrow, October 3. Confessions at 10:30, Mass is at 11:00, followed by Rosary, a potluck luncheon, and a talk on Faith in God.
  • This Sunday, October 4th, the 25th annual LifeWalk will be held in the surrounding neighborhoods.  Street will be blocked off between 11 am to 3pm.  A map of the route and street closures can be found on the narthex table.
  • We are working to establish a food pantry at Holy Cross.  This requires constant replenishing and we needs everyone’s help.  Many have been contributing and we thank you.  It is our hope that others will become involved by adopting an item on a regular basis.  In our pantry (which is in the back hall of our Church by the kitchen) we have fruit, vegetables, soups, canned meats, grooming items, and miscellaneous items. Please stop by if you haven’t looked. This will give you some ideas. Your ongoing support will keep this pantry open and stocked with desirable items.  Every item helps.

Hagiographies:

holyguardianangelsOctober 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.

st-therese-of-lisieuxOctober 3: Saint 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.

The_Ecstasy_of_st_Francis--Sassetta--Bernson_collecton--SettignanoOctober 4: Saint 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.

(c) York Museums Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) York Museums Trust; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

October 6: Saint 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.

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