Announcements for Friday, September 18, 2015

Announcements:

Sunday, September 20th:  Please welcome our guest preacher, The Rev’d Canon Alistair Macdonald-Radcliff.

Hagiographies:

theodore-of-canterburySeptember 19: Theodore of Tarsus

Born in Tarsus, in what is now eastern Turkey, in the year 602, Theodore was a learned, Greek-speaking Christian. In 637, when he was about 35 years old, Muslims arrived from Arabia and conquered Tarsus, making life intolerable for Christians who refused to convert to Islam. Theodore, along with many others, fled westward. He eventually arrived at Rome, where he became a member of a monastery. Theodore led a life of prayer and scholarship, and when he was 66 years old, was chosen to be Archbishop of Canterbury. He was consecrated in Rome, and set off for England. He ruled as archbishop for 22 years, and his tenure was marked by assiduous devotion to his people, the establishment of a monastic school which ushered in a kind of renaissance of Anglo-Saxon scholarship. Despite the many burdens of his archiepiscopal office, Theodore is said to have spent long hours, as an old man, patiently teaching the young children at his school. He died at the age of 88 – remarkable in his time – in the year 690. He was buried at the monastery of Ss. Peter and Paul at Canterbury. His shrine, along with the entire monastery, was ransacked and destroyed during the Reformation, in 1538.

JohnColeridgePattesonSeptember 20: John Coleridge Patteson and his Companions

Born in 1827, Patteson prepared for the studied at Balliol College, Oxford, and was ordained to the priesthood in 1854. He had a lifelong interest in languages, and was proficient in many. He was recruited for the mission field by George Augustus Selwyn, the first bishop of New Zealand, and left for the South Seas in 1855. He engaged in mission work in the islands for several years, establishing several schools and churches, and was consecrated the first bishop of Melanesia in 1861. The territory of Melanesia was vast and Patteson’s work was daunting. Head-hunting and cannibalism was practiced by some of the tribes in Melanesia, and the natives were preyed upon by European slave-traders, instilling in them a suspicion of whites and their motives. Patteson pursued his work with zeal, eventually teaching himself 23 of the hundreds of Melanesian languages, and working with the colonial government to bring an end to the slave trade. On September 20, 1871, Patteson was killed, along with several companions, by natives as they landed on Nukapu Island. The natives were evidently seeking revenge against the ravages of the blackbirders. Patteson’s body was found floating in a canoe, covered by a palm mat, with a palm branch in his hand. Like that of his crucified Lord, the body of Bishop Patteson was marked by five wounds.

St Matthew-Byzantine MsSeptember 21: St. Matthew the Apostle and Evanvelist

Matthew was one of the inner circle of the Lord’s disciples, the twelve Apostles. Tradition says that he was a publican (a tax collector) when the Lord called him, saying “Follow me”, and the Gospel says that Matthew “rose and followed him” (Matt. 9.9). Of Matthew’s life after the Lord’s ascension little is known for certain. Some early writers (e.g. Eusebius of Caesarea) say that Matthew wrote a Gospel in Hebrew. Most early writers agree that Matthew preached the Gospel in “Ethiopia”, south of the Caspian Sea (in what is now Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India). Somewhere in this region he is said to have been martyred. The cathedral at Salerno has claimed to possess his relics since the tenth century.

Our Lady of Walsingham Edelman Window Into Heaven 2 sSeptember 24: Our Lady of Walsingham

Walsingham was one of the most popular pilgrimage destinations in medieval Europe. At Walsingham (in Norfolk, England) the Virgin Mary appeared in a vision in the year 1061 to a Saxon noblewoman named Richeldis de Faverches. The Virgin asked Richeldis to build a wooden house in imitation of the holy house at Nazareth, where the Annunciation took place and where the Word took flesh. This simple wooden house, with its image of our Lady and our Lord, was the most popular pilgrimage destination in England for five hundred years. During the Reformation, in 1538, the shrine and its adjoining priory were destroyed, and all of its gold and silver treasures were confiscated. The ancient image of Mary and Jesus was taken to London and burned. The sub-prior of the monastery, Nicholas Milcham, and ten others were convicted of high treason for resisting the destruction of the shrine and monastery, and were hanged, drawn and quartered. The site of the shrine was sold by Henry VIII to a private citizen who built a mansion there. An anonymous ballad, “The Lament of Walsingham”, records the sentiments of the people: “Weep, weep O Walsingham, / Whose days are nights, / Blessings turned to blasphemies, / Holy deeds to despites. / Sin is where our Lady sat, / Heaven is turned to hell, / Satan sitteth where our Lord did sway, / Walsingham, O farewell!” In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the shrine was restored by devout Catholics (Romans and Anglicans). In 1897 Pope Leo XIII blessed a new image, now housed at the “Slipper Chapel”. And in 1931 the Anglican vicar, Father Alfred Hope Patten rebuilt the Holy House. Walsingham has once again become an important place of pilgrimage and blessing for the faithful, and a place of cooperation and unity for Anglo-Catholics and Roman Catholics.

announcements for friday, september 11, 2015

Announcements:

Sunday, September 13th:  Please welcome Fr. John Thorpe, our guest celebrant and preacher.

Tuesday, September 15th and Thursday, September 17th:  Fr. David Miller will be celebrating the Noon Prayer and Low Mass.

Fr. Will will be out of the country from Sept. 2 through Sept. 19. The Tuesday / Thursday noon masses will be celebrated by Fr. David Miller. Other weekday masses will resume after September 20th. While Fr. Will is away, in an emergency, contact the Senior Warden, Jerre Gibbs.

Hagiographies:

22.4.2010: south wall, Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna
22.4.2010: south wall, Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna

September 13: St. Cyprian

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

icon_exaltation_of_the_cross_largeSeptember 14: (The Exaltation of the) Holy Cross

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

our-lady-of-sorrows-011-939x500September 15: Seven Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary

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

stninianSeptember 16: Ninian of Galloway

Little is known for certain about St. Ninian. St. Bede mentions him in his “History” as having been a British Christian, born in the late 300’s. He appears to have traveled to Rome and there been made a bishop. He knew St. Martin of Tours, and dedicated a church to St. Martin in the town of Whithorn in what is now southern Scotland. There Ninian preached the Gospel and converted many of the Pictish tribes to faith in Christ. He is said to have died around the year 432 at Whithorn, and was buried in a stone sarcophagus near the altar of the church.

Announcements for friday, september 4, 2015

Announcements:

Sunday, September 6th:  Please welcome Fr. David Miller, our guest celebrant and preacher.

It being the first Sunday of the month, all undesignated offerings go to the Rector’s Discretionary Fund – for the relief of those in need and other such pious purposes. Your generosity is greatly appreciated.

Fr. Will will be out of the country from Sept. 2 through Sept. 19. The Tuesday / Thursday noon masses will be celebrated by Fr. David Miller. Other weekday masses will resume after September 20th. While Fr. Will is away, in an emergency, contact the Senior Warden, Jerre Gibbs.

Hagiographies:

220px-Boris_Gleb_astrideSeptember 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.

 

 

 

Natividade_da_VirgemSeptember 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.”

ConstanceSeptember 9: Constance and her Companions: the Martyrs of Memphis
During the 19th century Memphis Tennessee suffered from periodic outbreaks of Yellow Fever. In 1878 the worst of these outbreaks began. Over 5,000 residents lost their lives. Five years previously, a community of Anglican nuns, from the Sisterhood of St. Mary, had relocated to Memphis to take over the Cathedral School for girls. As the epidemic grew worse, most of the residents of Memphis who were able, fled. However a number of Christians, knowing that they were likely to be killed, stayed behind to feed the hungry, to care for the sick and dying, to bury the dead, and tend to children who had been orphaned by the disease. Among those who stayed were the Sister Superior, Sister Constance, along with three of her nuns (Sister Thecla, Sister Ruth, and Sister Frances), and two priests (Father Charles Parsons, rector of Grace Church in Memphis, and Father Louis Schuyler, assistant rector of Holy Innocents Church in Hoboken NY). All five succumbed to the fever, giving their lives in loving obedience to the Lord’s summons. In testimony of their self-sacrifice, Sister Ruth had written to a friend, as she set out from the mother house in Peekskill, heading to her death in Memphis: “The telegram came, asking for more helpers, before I had time to offer myself; but the Mother [Superior] has chosen me, and you know how gladly and unreservedly I give myself to our dear Lord. Pray for me, that in life, in death, I may be ever His own.” Today is also the anniversary of Fr Will’s ordination to the priesthood.

 

 

 

holy cross sermon for the thirteenth sunday after pentecost, august 23, 2015

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

Today we conclude our several-week lectionary excursus on the great Bread of Heaven discourse in St. John’s Gospel. We have seen that in order to have eternal life, we must come to Christ in faith, love, and humility, and that we must feed on him. And we have seen the continuity of the spiritual dimension of this teaching with the bodily dimension, a continuity expressed and located, in the economy of the Church, in the consecrated elements of the Holy Eucharist. For it is the flesh of Jesus Christ – his physical body – which is entirely animated and empowered by the Holy Spirit, and which in consequence, carries out the will of the Father, and brings the Kingdom of God to earth, so that it might truly be said that the Kingdom of God has come near (Luke 10.11), that it has come upon us (Luke 11.20), that it is in the midst of us, that, if we feed on Christ’s flesh, it is within us (Luke 17.21).

Today’s Gospel reading begins with the scandal with which many of the Lord’s own disciples heard his teaching about the necessity of eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Let us remind ourselves of what precisely Jesus had said that caused such consternation even among those who were otherwise well-disposed toward him. In the verses immediately preceding today’s Gospel, verses we encountered last week, the Lord says:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.” This he said in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. (John 6.53ff).

And then we pick up with the action of today’s reading: “Many of his disciples, when they heard it, said, ‘This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?’” And it is indeed a hard saying. But where does the difficulty lie? A strictly literal understanding of the Lord’s words would lead to charges of cannibalism. And indeed in the early Church, in the days of persecution, cannibalism was one of the standard charges trotted out against Christians by unbelievers – and even today many, especially in the Protestant traditions, misunderstand the Church’s teaching about eating the Lord’s flesh and drinking his blood, in this way. But as St. Paul says, “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3.6).

Jesus does not try to make it any easier for his disciples to understand. We are not cannibals. But the truth – the Word of God, which Jesus speaks – which Jesus IS –  is perhaps even more difficult to receive. Theophylact said: the Body of Christ which we receive “is not simply the flesh of man, but [the flesh] of God: and it makes man divine, by inebriating him… with divinity.” Jesus does not soften the lesson to accommodate our incredulity. He makes it even MORE incomprehensible. He says, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.” Faith precedes and seeks understanding, as the Latin phrase has it: fides quaerens intellectum. Faith seeking understanding. And the inability of many of Jesus’ disciples to receive his teaching, has its genesis in their failure to BEGIN with faith in Jesus’ PERSON. St. Anselm of Canterbury said: “…the right order requires that we should BELIEVE the deep things of the Christian faith BEFORE we undertake to discuss them by reason” (Cur Deus Homo). “…The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you that do not believe.”

Saint Augustine says: “Christ became the Son of man, of the Virgin Mary here upon earth, and took flesh upon him: he says then, what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before? [He says this in order] to let us know that Christ, God and man, is one person, not two; and [that he is] the object of one faith… He was the Son of man in heaven, as he was Son of God upon earth; the Son of God upon earth by assumption of the flesh, the Son of man in heaven, by the unity of the person.”

The real scandal – the real stumbling block – is the person of Jesus himself. He – his person – is the object of our faith, or the object of our incredulity: the stone, rejected by the builders, on which anyone who falls is broken in pieces (cf. Luke 20.18-19). “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of man ascending where he was before?” Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God – “begotten of his Father before all worlds” – the One by whom, and through whom, and for whom, the universe was brought into being out of nothing. Jesus says, “It is the spirit that gives life, the flesh is of no avail,” and this is the proof of the divine identity of this person: that the Spirit of God has given him life; and that after eons of human flesh, of itself availing nothing, but ending in every instance in death, it was not so for Jesus, who rose from death on the third day, in the power of the Spirit, never to die again, over whom death no longer has dominion (cf. Romans 6.9).

St. Paul says, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you” (Romans 8.11). And again, St. Augustine says, “For the flesh does not cleanse of itself, but the Word who assumed it: which Word, being the principle of life in all things, having taken up soul and body, cleanses the souls and bodies of those that believe.” And we return to the centrality of the person of Jesus, who is the eternal Word of God, whose very flesh was given life by the Holy Spirit. What ultimately is the object of our faith? It is not doctrines or systems of ethics; nor even the Bible; and least of all is it works of the flesh, however good they may be. The object of our faith is rather the person of Jesus Christ, on whose flesh and blood we are invited to feast, in faith: faith working by love, and love working by humility.

Only by consuming him, and so being consumed BY him, and incorporated into his Body, does the Spirit come to dwell in us. How do we know that the Holy Spirit dwells in us? We look for its fruit, which, as St. Paul says, is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 5.22-23). We do not attain the life-giving Spirit of God by striving for these things, rather we receive the Spirit by feeding on the divine flesh to which the Spirit has given life: by eating and drinking the body and blood of Christ.

It all begins with faith in the person of Jesus Christ, in believing that, in the flesh, he has come to us from God, and that he has returned, in the flesh, to God. And it is this faith to which St. Peter bears simple and eloquent witness at the end of today’s Gospel. Many of Jesus’s disciples had left him over the scandal of his teaching, and “Jesus said to the twelve, ‘Do you also wish to go away?’ Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life; and we have BELIEVED, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God,’” (John 6.67ff).

Jesus is – in himself – eternal life; and in his flesh and blood, he gives to us what he himself is.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats me will live because of me. This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever.”

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

holy cross sermon for the twelfth sunday after pentecost, august 16, 2015

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

Today’s Gospel continues the Lord’s teaching from Saint John’s Gospel, which we have encountered over the past several weeks, about the Bread of Heaven, the food which endures to eternal life, which Jesus says is his flesh. The words of Jesus which we hear in today’s Gospel, he speaks in response to a question put by “the Jews” in the opening verses of today’s reading. They ask: “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” (John 6.52).

The great Biblical commentator Theophylact says that the Body of Christ which we receive, “is not simply the flesh of man, but [the flesh] of God: and it makes man divine, by inebriating him, as it were, with divinity.” This is what we are after: being inebriated with divinity, and thereby being made divine. That is the whole purpose of the Incarnation of the eternal Word. As Saint Athanasius famously put it, the Word “was made man so that we might be made God” (De Incarn. 54.3).

We have seen that the effectual approach to receiving the Bread of Heaven, which is the body of Christ, is the approach of FAITH – of believing that Jesus is who he says he is, and that he has done what he said he would do. And we have seen that, as Saint Augustine puts it, faith works by love. “To believe in [Jesus means] believing to love [him], believing to honour Him, believing to go to Him, and to be made members incorporate of His Body. The faith which God requires of us, is that which works by LOVE.”

We may also see that a prerequisite of the faith that “works by love” – is humility. This should come as no surprise, as our approach to Christ – our LOVE of him – is elicited by his having first come to us in great humility, his having first LOVED us. Saint John says it explicitly: “We love, because [God] first loved us” (1 John 4.19).

The token of God’s love for us is the Incarnation of his only Son. How do we know that God loves us? Because Jesus Christ came into the world, “leaving” (so to speak) the transcendent domain of his Father, and taking to himself a bride – our nature, becoming frail flesh. This is an act of supreme humility, and it was undertaken out of nothing but love: because God looked with compassion on the human condition, the brokenness and confusion and futility of life in the world. God determined to fix it, and so he sent his Son, to live and die as one ofus – yet the only one of us who offered himself in every instant of his life, in perfect and loving devotion, to God.

Christ came to live and die as one of us, and to live and die in such a way that his life and death might become not only an exemplar or paradigm of virtue or righteousness – a pattern for us to imitate – but so that his life might become for us the dynamism that animates us. Christ came not only to show us how to live, but to live for us, within us, to give his life not only FOR US, but TO US, as something for us to take to ourselves, to internalize, such that it wells up within us, displacing everything broken, confused, and futile, and transforming us by degrees into his own likeness. This is why the Apostle Paul says: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2.20). Faith, working by love, leads to divine life. “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (John 6.58).

I would like to draw our attention to two important things with respect to receiving and feeding on the Body of Christ in faith and in love. And both are aspects of the humility that is required of us – the subsumption of our own will into the will of God in Christ.

As we have seen in the previous several weeks, we must give our lives to Christ in order for the gift of his life to be effectual within us. This means that we must allow ourselves – we must allow the pattern of our life – to be transformed, and to become divine. Saint Augustine says: “There are some who promise men deliverance from eternal punishment if they are washed in Baptism and partake of Christ’s Body, whatever lives they live. The Apostle [Paul] however contradicts them, where he says: ‘Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.’”

In order to receive the gift of divine life, to become subsumed into the very life of God, and so attain to peace and joy, we must GIVE OURSELVES to Christ. And this means leaving behind the life of the world – it means leaving behind every pattern of action that is informed by what is telluric, what belongs essentially to the earth. Why? Because the earth is temporal, and it, and every pattern of action that belongs to it, will perish.

 

Saint 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). What will remain is that which belongs to heaven, and those who have been transformed by allowing their lives – the pattern of their actions – to be nourished, informed, and empowered by that which belongs essentially to heaven – “the Bread which came down from heaven.” And “He who eats this bread will live for ever.”

To be members of the Body of Christ must mean that the power at work in us – the dynamism which drives our action, which governs our lives and the very movement of our bodies – is the same power at work in Christ, namely the Holy Spirit of God. It is for this reason that what were once called “sins of the flesh” – the sins which we commit with our bodies – are particularly difficult impediments to the inheritance of the kingdom of God. Speaking of sins of the flesh, again, St. Paul says: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’ But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun sexual immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the sexually immoral man sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6.15ff).

So what we do with our bodies must be informed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the same dynamism informing the action of Christ in the flesh.

The second important element in receiving the Body of Christ, to which I would like to draw your attention, is what we might call the “ecumenical” element. Saint Augustine says, “Whereas men desire meat and drink to satisfy hunger and thirst, this effect is only really produced by that meat and drink, which makes the receivers of it immortal and incorruptible; i.e. [which makes them into] the society of Saints, where there is peace and unity, full and perfect. On which account our Lord has chosen for the types of His body and blood, things which become one out of many. Bread is a quantity of grains united into one mass, wine a quantity of grapes squeezed together.”

As we come to Christ and receive the flesh of the Son of Man, and as we thereby give ourselves to being transformed by God into the image of his Son, we find ourselves in close proximity to all those who likewise have come to Christ and who are being transformed into the form of his life. In short, when we become children of God – by being members of his Son – Christ himself becomes “the firstborn of many brethren” (Romans 8.29). In the Body of Christ, we become for the first time, brothers and sisters of one another.

This is part of the reason that the Lord chose the elements of bread and wine to perpetuate his presence among us, and to effect our reconciliation with God. In the case of bread, many grains of wheat are gathered out of the fields, and separated from the chaff – the useless husks. The grain is ground down, mixed with water, and put into a fire, until it becomes a single loaf. The spiritual symbolism of this should be manifest. And it is summed up in the words of the very ancient Eucharistic prayer which I mentioned several weeks ago: “As grain, once scattered on the hillsides was in this broken bread made one, so from all lands may thy Church be gathered into thy Kingdom by thy Son, for thine is the glory and the power, through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”

To receive the Bread of Heaven without reference to the unity of the one Body of Christ, which is the Catholic Church – is a serious problem. This is the sacrament of unity, and I sincerely tremble at the presumption with which we receive it, in the midst of the reality of our separation from the overwhelming majority of Christians throughout the world.

This “is not simply the flesh of man, but [the flesh] of God: and it makes man divine, by inebriating him, as it were, with divinity.” Let us come to the Lord, but let us come in faith, remembering that faith works by love, and that love works by humility. Let us come resolute in putting off the works of the flesh, and every dissension, and renewed by the power of the Spirit. Let us come earnestly seeking the peace and unity of the one Body of Christ, the Una Sancta, for whom alone the Lord poured out his life (Ephesians 5.29-30).

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

holy cross sermon for the eleventh sunday after pentecost, august 9, 2015

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

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus further develops the teaching which we heard last week: that we must not labor for food that perishes – that is to say, we must not seek after things in this world which will make us temporarily happy – but we must labor for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son ofMan alone can – and does – give to us. That is to say, we are to seek Jesus himself, and when we attain him, we will find a lasting joy and a lasting peace, which cannot be taken away from us by any means.

Another lesson of last week’s gospel lesson is that we must approach Jesus in FAITH – by believing in him – believing that he is who says he is, and that he has done for us what he said he would do for us.

 

For some reason, the new lectionary omits some verses from what should be the gospel reading for today. In verse 38, for example, Jesus says: “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me…” We learn from this saying that the remedy to our predicament is humility: in allowing our own will to be subsumed into the will of God: saying to him with conviction, “Lord, I do not know what is best for me, but you do; may your will be done in my life. Lord, I trust you with my life, and I place myself in your hands, for in your hands all is safe, and I am safe.”

Saint Augustine of Hippo said: our soul “departed from God because it was proud. Pride casts us out, [but] humility restores us. When a physician in the treatment of a disease, cures certain outward symptoms, but not the cause which produces those symptoms, his cure is only temporary. So long as the cause remains, the disease may return. That the cause then of all diseases, i.e. pride, might be eradicated, the Son of God humbled himself. O man, why are you proud? The Son of God humbled Himself for you. It might shame you, perhaps, to imitate a humble man; but imitate at least a humble God. And this is the proof of His humility: ‘I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me…’ Pride does its own will; humility [does] the will of God.”

We are eaten up with pride. We always think we know best. Trusting in another is difficult – and it can be particularly difficult for people who have been injured by others. We train ourselves to stand on our own, to be self-sufficient, to go through life strong, self-reliant, and autonomous. It’s the American way: manifest destiny! Westward the wagons! But trusting in ourselves is the road to death and hell. The road to peace and joy – the road to the presence of God – lies in self-abandonment, in giving up our own notions about what we need and even what we want, and instead trusting God: believing in Jesus, who said, “whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake, he will save it,” (Luke 9.24).

This process is difficult precisely because it requires trust. But if we attain to faith, we come to know that God does, in fact, provide WHAT we need, WHEN we need it. This is the experience described in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy, in a passage that begins with the prerequisite – again – of HUMILITY: “you shall remember all the way which the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might HUMBLE you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments, or not. And he HUMBLED you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know; that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord. Your clothing did not wear out upon you, and your foot did not swell, these forty years.”

Coming to understand with our hearts that “man does not live by bread alone, but that man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord” – this can be painful, because it entails allowing ourselves to be purged, to have a lifetime of false-selves scraped away. In order to find the satisfaction of our hunger, we must first know what it means to hunger. Spiritually, this means giving up our pretensions, and giving up something that has been instilled in us as a very high end indeed: the American Dream itself: the pursuit of happiness. Lasting happiness eludes us as long as we seek it. “He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” But we make progress as we learn rather to seek Jesus – who is the SOURCE (and the only source) of true and lasting joy and peace. As he himself says in today’s Gospel: “this is the will of my Father, that every one who sees the Son and believes in him should have eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Taking into account the mysteriously missing verses from today’s Gospel, Jesus makes mention of the mystery of the resurrection three times, and each time with reference to it being the Father’s will that we should come to Jesus and be raised by him at the last day. In the Lord’s third mention of this, Jesus says: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” And to this, Jesus connects a prophecy of the Old Testament: “It is written in the prophets, `And they shall all be taught by God.’ Every one who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.”

Here we have a deep mystery of the divine life. God calls to himself within us. As the Psalm says: “Deep calls to deep in the noise of your cataracts.” Our task is to allow that process to unfold within us, to give in to it, and to pray for it continually. Saint Augustine says, “This is the doctrine of grace: none comes [to Christ], unless he is drawn. But whom the Father draws, and whom not, and why He draws one, and not another, presume not to decide, if you would avoid falling into error. Take the doctrine as it is given to you: and if you are not drawn, pray that you may be.” For only thus will your deepest longings find fulfillment and consummation.

The Gospel passages over these few weeks are about the Lord’s teaching about the Bread of Life. And of course, as such, they all are intimately connected to the Blessed Sacrament. That is no accident. Because in the Eucharist the eyes of faith see this spiritual drama unfold. The Eucharist fans the flame of the yearning for God within our hearts. The Eucharist is the principle location of the Lord’s summons within the economy of the life of faith in this world. It is where the Father draws us to the Son.

I would like to conclude by saying a word about the Lord’s invitation to the Eucharistic feast. Firstly, we return to the centrality of humility. For we accept the Lord’s summons by means of humble faith. Saint Augustine reminds us that: “the Sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the Sacrament another. There are many who receive from the Altar, and then perish in [the very act of] receiving; eating and drinking their own condemnation, as the Apostle says. Therefore to eat the heavenly bread spiritually, is to bring to the Altar an INNOCENT MIND. Sins, though they be daily, are not deadly. Before you go to the Altar, pay attention to the prayer you pray: Forgive us forgive, you are forgiven: approach confidently; it is bread, not poison. None then that eat of this bread shall die.”

Lastly Saint Augustine says, “The faithful know and receive the Body of Christ, if they labor to BE the body of Christ. And they become the body of Christ, if they labor to live by the Spirit of Christ: for that which lives by the Spirit of Christ, is the body of Christ. It is this bread of which the Apostle speaks, where he says, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread.. O sacrament of mercy, O sign of unity, O bond of love! Whoever wishes to live, let him draw near, let him believe, let him be incorporated, that he may be made alive.”

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

holy cross sermon for the tenth sunday after pentecost, august 2, 2015

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

Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life, which the Son of man will give to you,” (John 6.26f).

“You seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” This word of the Lord is a convicting one. I get pretty exercised about how various ideologies tend to usurp the Lord’s rightful place in our consciousness, as the object of our striving. Instead of devoting ourselves to the arduous search for the Lord’s face, in recognition of his transcendent otherness, we assume that we already have him figured him out, that he is just like us, and his priorities and mission just like ours. We tend to be first and foremost broad-minded Americans, and only later and in a subordinate way are we his disciples. One sees this tendency in the reduction of Christianity – and I mean even in the calculation of those of us who purport to be Christians – to an insipid system of tolerant do- gooding, a mansion in the ever expanding jurisdiction of liberal civilization.

 

(It is important for me to note that when I use the word “liberal,” I am using it in the older and broader sense that encompasses both sides of the American public discourse, embodied by Republicans just as much as Democrats – who are joint heirs of Enlightenment political philosophy.)

About this liberal order, and the inner logic that inclines it toward becoming the all-encompassing mediator of every relation, the Catholic political philosopher Michael Hanby recently wrote:

“Too often we are content to accept the absolutism of liberal order, which consists in its capacity to establish itself as the ultimate horizon, to remake everything within that horizon in its own image, and to establish itself as the highest good and the condition of possibility for the pursuit of all other goods—including religious freedom.” (First Things, February 2015)

Insofar as Jesus is popular in our time and place, and even, if we are honest, insofar as he is popular with us, he is popular because of what we mistake him to be: a kind of validator of our Americanism, one of the many authority’s from whom we learn of our inalienable right to autonomy and self-determination, and by implication, of the right of others to autonomy and self determination. Our national religion has become what sociologists Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton have called “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Its central tenet is that God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as is taught by most world religions; and the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.

But “you seek me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” This misconception of who Jesus is and what he does naturally infects our approach to the blessed sacrament as well. Father Tony Clavier said recently:

“Jesus has become a Pill. Rather than centering a Christian in a counter-cultural sense of the ‘otherness’ of the Eucharistic offering, the revived Sacrament often seems to reinforce the concept that I am at the center of all things, I am who I decide to be, and God sits around waiting to shower me with approval and grace, whatever grace is.” (Covenant, July 22, 2015)

The truth, by contrast, is that Jesus is the bridge across what Gothold Lessing called the “ugly, broad ditch,” indeed the infinitely broad and ugly ditch separating us from God, and therefore from blessedness, happiness, fulfillment, and LIFE. Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” And as Paul says in today’s epistle, “There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all.”

 

Jesus came so that we could have life, and have it in abundance. And there is no life apart from him. Nor is there any right to life, nor any but vain HOPE for life apart from him. He must become the object of our striving, our quest, our desire. And the only authentic approach to him is the way of humility and repentance. We have to recognize the dire straits into which we have piloted the vessels of our own lives, and where the world and the devil conspire to leave us shackled and wrecked. We have to come to terms with our starvation, of our desperate need for the waters of life and the bread from heaven, the nourishment that we cannot provide for ourselves.

 

But Jesus has come so that we might have life. “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.”

We are swiftly becoming a society of spiritual infants – helpless and immature, as vulnerable to our ancient and rapacious enemy as the unborn who are crushed and picked apart and sold for profit in America’s abortion mills. We would do well to recognize the words of the letter to the Hebrews as addressed to us: “You need milk, not solid food; for every one who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil,” (Hebrews 5.12ff).

What is the antidote? It is to learn to seek Jesus for his own sake, because he IS truth, beauty, and goodness; to cultivate a willingness to be surprised by what is revealed in him and to have our preconceptions broken down and remolded in a heavenly fashion; to think little of ourselves and much of him: to make the sentiments of the Prayer of Humble Access our own today and always:

“We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.”

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

announcements for friday, july 31, 2015

Announcements:

  • There will be no mass Tuesday, August 4. Father has an SSC chapter meeting that day.
  • The next vestry meeting will be Sunday, August 9, after mass.
  • Join the summer reading group Monday evenings at 7:30 in the parish hall. We will be reading Dante’s “Divine Comedy.” All are welcome.
  • Thank you for the support of our Food Pantry.  We are currently in need of disposable razors and canned meat and vegetable products.  Any donations you can make will be greatly appreciated!

Hagiographies:

IgnatiusJuly 31: St. Ignatius of Loyola

Born in 1491 in the Basque region of Spain, St. Ignatius.  He excelled as a soldier, but was injured by a cannonball in 1521.  During his convalescence, Ignatius read the book “The Life of Christ” by the monk Ludolph the Carthusian.  In this work, Ludolph proposes that the reader mentally visualize himself as a witness to the events of the Gospels.  This method of contemplation would later become the basis for St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, which in turn would later draw millions of people closer to Jesus Christ, as the core of Jesuit spirituality.  During Ignatius’s convalescence, inspired by the lives of saints such as Francis of Assisi, Ignatius resolved to lead a life of self-denial and service to the Gospel.  When he had recovered, Ignatius visited the mountain monastery of Montserrat, outside of Barcelona, and there before the ancient image of our Lady, Ignatius removed his military clothes, never to put them on again.  Ignatius then retired to a cave near Manresa for several months before going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  While studying theology at Paris, in 1534, Ignatius and six of his friends (including St. Francis Xavier) vowed themselves to poverty, chastity, and obedience to the Pope, and organized themselves as “Friends in the Lord”.  This group would become in 1540 the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits, dedicated to teaching and missionary work in service to the Gospel of Christ.  St. Ignatius died on July 31, 1556 after a long struggle with stomach ailments.

JOSEPH-TAKES-BODYAugust 1: St. Joseph of Arimathea

This Joseph, from a town of Judea called Arimathea, was, according to St. Mark (15.43), a rich and honorable man who was looking for the Kingdom of God.  St. John tells us that he “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews” (John 19.38).  He was most likely a member of the Sanhedrin, the main governing body of the Jews which had condemned Jesus to death (though not unanimously).  Likewise, according to the Gospels, after the crucifixion, Joseph went boldly to Pilate asking for the body of Jesus.  Joseph’s request being granted, he purchased fine linen in which to wrap the body (Mark 15.46), and proceeded to Golgotha to collect Jesus’ body, which, after preparing it for burial, he laid in a tomb which he had purchased for himself.  The theological significance of this act is in Christ accepting the fate of death and the grave that, apart from him, belonged to us.  Similarly, Joseph’s act fulfilled the prophecy concerning the Messiah from the prophet Isaiah: “And they made his grave with the wicked / and with a rich man in his death / although he had done no violence, / and there was no deceit in his mouth.”  Rabanus Maurus, a Benedictine monk writing in the early 800’s, says that after the Ascension, St. Joseph made his way to Britain at the behest of St. Philip, landing at Glastonbury and spreading the Gospel among the Britons.  While this is unlikely, it is not impossible.  Already Tertullian, writing in the late 100’s AD, says that Britain, “though inaccessible to the Romans” is yet “subjugated to Christ” – that is, had already been evangelized.  In the 1100’s, drawing on a apocryphal work called the Acts of Pilate, a French poet named Robert de Boron associated St. Joseph of Arimathea with the legend of the Holy Grail, which de Born claimed had been taken by St. Joseph to Britain in the 1st century.


NicodemusAugust 3: Nicodemus

Nicodemus appears three times in the Gospel of St. John. He was a Pharisee, a “teacher of Israel”, and a member of the Sanhedrin, the religious governing body which would eventually condemn Jesus to death (though not unanimously). Nicodemus comes to Jesus “by night” in John 3, and his questions prompt Jesus to say, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God…. I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (Jn. 3.3ff). Nicodemus defends Jesus at his trial before the Sanhedrin (John 7.50f), and with St. Joseph of Arimathea, reverently prepares Jesus’s corpse for burial (John 19.39ff). Tradition says that Nicodemus was martyred for faith in Christ during the first century. His relics, along with those of St. Stephen and Gamaliel, were discovered on August 3, 415, by a priest named Lucian in the town of Caphargamala near Jerusalem.

jean merie vianneyAugust 4:  Jean Baptiste Marie Vianney

St. Jean Vianney was born on May 8, 1786 and died on this day, August 4, 1859.  He was the parish priest of the town of Ars, and as such is often called the “Curé d’Ars” even in English.  Jean’s education and formation in the faith was sporadic and carried out in secret due to the persecution of Catholics in the wake of the French Revolution.  When once again Christianity was tolerated, Jean was ordained a priest, and took charge of the church at Ars. He is renowned for having transformed the spiritual life of Ars, which had fallen into spiritual dissipation before his arrival.  The transformation of Ars was wrought by the tireless pastoral labor of St. Jean, his personal sanctity, self-denial, and deep commitment to the sacrament of Confession.  St. Jean became famous for his holiness and wisdom even during his own lifetime.  During the last decade of his life, St. Jean spent between sixteen and eighteen hours a day in the confessional, in order to meet the demand of those who came to him for confession and direction.  He fasted continually from food and from sleep.  The Lord gave the gift of clairvoyance and healing to St. Jean, and these were manifested many times in his care of souls.  He reposed on Aug. 4, 1859.  His incorrupt body is venerated at the basilica at Ars.  St. Jean said: “My secret is easy … give everything away and keep nothing for yourself,” and “Our Lord is our model, let us take up our cross and follow Him.”  He is the patron saint of parish priests.

oswaldAugust 5:  Oswald of Northumbria

St. Oswald was born about the year 604 AD.  He was king of Northumbria.  During his lifetime he did much to spread faith in Jesus among his people.  He sent to the Irish and asked for a missionary bishop.  The Irish sent him the great St. Aidan from the monastery at Iona in Scotland.  St. Oswald gave the island of Lindisfarne to St. Aidan for his Episcopal see, and there Aidan planted the great monastery which survived the ravages of heathen Vikings and many other challenges, until it was finally destroyed during the English Reformation in 1536.  St. Bede (writing less than a century after Oswald’s death) records that Oswald served as translator when Aidan preached (Aidan apparently did not speak English, but Oswald spoke Aidan’s native Irish).  Oswald was known for his generosity to the poor.  St. Bede records that at Easter, Oswald was sitting at dinner with Aidan, and had “a silver dish full of dainties before him”, when a servant, whom Oswald “had appointed to relieve the poor”, came in and told Oswald that a crowd of the poor were in the streets begging alms from the king. Oswald, according to Bede, then immediately had his food given to the poor and even had the dish broken up and distributed. Aidan was greatly impressed and seized Oswald’s right hand, stating: “May this hand never perish.” Accordingly, Bede reports that the hand and arm remained uncorrupted after Oswald’s death.  St. Oswald died in battle on August 5, 642 at the hands of the pagan Mercians who dismembered the saint, and hung his body parts on stakes.  His relics were recovered, and his head was taken to Durham Cathedral where it remains.  His incorrupt arm was taken to Peterborough Abbey, where it and all the other relics of the abbey were destroyed during the Reformation.  The place of his death became a place of healing during the middle ages.

Transfiguration-Fra-AngelicoAugust 6: THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD

On this day we commemorate our Lord’s transfiguration on Mt. Tabor before Ss. Peter, James, and John (cf. Matthew 17.1-9; Mark 9.2-8; Luke 9.28-36).  St. Matthew’s account says that after taking these three disciples up to a high mountain apart, Jesus “was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Eli’jah, talking with him.”  Peter suggests that they make three booths for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah, and the gospels record that a cloud overtook them, and a voice came from the cloud bearing witness to Jesus as the Son of God.  The presence of Moses and Elijah at the transfiguration symbolize the testimony of the Law and the Prophets of the Old Testament as bearing witness to Jesus as the coming Messiah.  His transfiguration was a manifestation of his uncreated glory, a glimpse of his true identity granted to his three closest disciples.  In his second epistle, St. Peter attests that “we were with him on the holy mountain” and were eyewitnesses “of his majesty” and of the voice of the Father (2 Peter 1.16-18) bearing witness to him.

holy cross sermon for the ninth sunday after pentecost, july 26, 2015

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

In today’s gospel lesson, we find the disciples weary from ministry. We know from the version of this story in Mark’s gospel that they had come back to the Lord from their mission among the people, and they had come back tired and hungry. And just when they think they’ve nothing left to give, the Lord draws the attention of his hungry disciples to the fact that they have still got five pieces of bread and two fish. And the Lord is able to turn a snack for twelve into a meal for five thousand. Jesus shows them that he is able to take their meagerness and turn it into life-giving abundance. 

And, again, in Mark’s version of this story, he makes it clear that the disciples did not understand the miracle.  They understand THAT Jesus has performed a miracle – Jesus’ ministry up to this point is replete with undeniable miracles – but the disciples don’t understand the deep meaning – what CS Lewis called the “deep magic” – of the miracle.  They don’t get it.  They seem unable to see the feeding of the five thousand as anything but a magical picnic.  They can’t get past the miracle’s surface, to the Mystery of the poured-out substance of the Son of God that is the bedrock and the import, the significance, the real magic of the miracle. 

And so Jesus performs another miracle. After sending the disciples away in the boat, Jesus goes up onto the mountain by himself to pray. The disciples, perhaps, wondered how the Lord was going to join them. After all, they had taken the boat, the only boat, and its miles overland. And it’s the middle of the night. John says, “It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.” How was Jesus going to reach them? And on top of that, a storm has arisen: “The sea rose because a strong wind was blowing.” So there are the disciples… struggling against the wind, battling the waves. Mark’s version of the story says that “about the fourth watch of the night,” just before dawn, Jesus “came to them, walking on the sea.”  Just like that. 

But once again, the disciples DON’T GET IT.  They’re terrified. They think Jesus is a ghost. There’s a curious sentence in Mark’s version of the story. It says Jesus “meant to pass by them.” WHY? WHY did he mean to pass them by? I mean, they’re in trouble. I think the Gospel’s are hinting that they don’t really recognize Jesus, and so Jesus is going to walk right past them as though they were strangers. Not only do the disciples not recognize Jesus as their friend and teacher, the guy they’ve been following around for some time now, but more than that – just as they hadn’t recognized the deeper significance of the feeding of the five thousand, just as they hadn’t seen the message of God’s abundance underneath it… so also here, struggling in the boat, while they recognize something extraordinary is going on, they can’t see the deep magic – the real miracle – underneath the surface. They can’t see the mystical significance of what’s REALLHY going on. They can’t see the rootedness of this miracle in God’s own being. Not only do they not understand THAT THIS IS JESUS walking to them on the sea, but they don’t even understand WHO JESUS IS to begin with. 

Seeing their fear and once again, no doubt, having compassion, Jesus gives them a big hint. He says to them “It is I; do not be afraid.” This is a profoundly unfortunate translation. The Greek says that Jesus said to them: “ego eimi, me phobesthei.” The first phrase – ego eimi – means simply, “I am.” It’s the same phrase used in the Septuagint when on Mount Sinai Moses asks God to whom he is speaking. And God responds, “I AM.” “Ego eimi.” It’s the same phrase here. Jesus is telling the disciples, and he is telling US, WHO HE IS. He’s telling us that he is God. And as with much of the rest of the gospel teaching, its oblique; its indirect; its veiled under a layer of double-meaning and symbol. Why does Jesus do it like that? Why doesn’t he just come out and explain things straightforwardly? Why can’t he just say “Okay guys. Here’s the deal. I am the only Son of God. I am the Eternal Word. I’ve come here to save you from your sins, and to give you a share in my infinite self,” etc. Why doesn’t he just do that? Why does he have to take five loaves and two fish and give thanks, and feed five thousand, and then walk on water and speak in parables and utter cryptic messages about who he is? I mean, this is important stuff! What if we miss it? What if we misunderstand it? 

For one thing, he’s packaging propositional truths about himself and his identity in life practices. I.e. he’s taking a form of life (lebens form) to himself, to make himself comestible, so to speak, to his disciples. If he just said “I am the Eternal Word. I am the only-begotten of God,” that may seem at first to be direct and straightforward, but what really does that mean? What is an “eternal word”? What is it to be the “only-begotten of God”? He is mercifully wrapping all this stuff about himself in life practices, in things we can get hold of. He’s giving us handles on himself. He’s providing little points whereon we can attach ourselves to him. And that’s also why we, in turn, don’t just hold up a sign that says “John 3:16” and consider that to be enough. Instead, we do what he did. We wrap all these propositional truths about Jesus, and their meanings, in life-practices. When we gather together, we don’t just read true sentences about Jesus. We DO do that, but that’s not ALL we do.  E.g. we also take bread, bless, break it, give it, eat it, etc. We walk around, we swing incense, we sprinkle water on ourselves, etc. 

And Jesus teaches this way, wrapping his meanings in layers of symbolism and symbolic action, for the same reason that Mark says that “he meant to pass by” the disciples in the boat, when he came to them walking on the sea, in the darkness, in the chaos of the storm. He wants to provoke a response in them. And he wants to provoke a response in us. Because salvation won’t work in our lives until we confess our need for it, until we confess our need for HIM, until we, like the disciples, are terrified and cry out in the tempestuous darkness of our lives. And its not that God is strict or tricky. To borrow another one of Jesus’ symbols: salvation is like seed. God scatters it liberally, all over the place, near and far. But if it falls on concrete, it just won’t take. There’s nothing for it to latch on to. It can’t take root and flourish. It has to fall on soil that is prepared to receive it, soil that has been broken-up and opened, so that the seed can enter in and take root. Just so, its not that our Lord is just withholding salvation by revealing himself in obscure symbols, but the deepness of his difficult self-revelation is GRACIOUS. It’s a double mercy. The difficulty and the obscurity of it invites us to STRUGGLE to get at it, and our struggle to understand, our struggle to know WHO JESUS IS SHOWING HIMSELF TO BE, is the preparation of our hearts to receive the secret, the mystery of WHO HE REALLY IS, and the mystery of WHO WE REALLY ARE IN HIM. In one stroke the seed is scattered and the soil prepared. 

That is the process we see unfolding for the disciples in this Gospel story. Their hearts are slowly being broken-up and opened to receive the fullness of the mystery of Who this Wonder-Worker really is, and of who he is calling us to be. Mark concludes this story saying that the disciples “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand… but their hearts were hardened” (Mk. 6.52). Pretty soon after this in the gospels there is a very palpable shift. Soon Jesus will abandon all of his miracles and teaching ministry in Galilee; he will turn his face toward Jerusalem, and go there to suffer and die. And only THEN, on the other side of death and resurrection, will the pieces begin to fall into place for the disciples. Only then will they look back on all the miracles and obscure sayings of their Master and understand the Mystery of the Gift of the eternal Word, the Only-begotten Son of God, the secret of his very own substance poured out for them. Then they will look back and remember that hour before dawn, in the middle of a storm on a lake, when Jesus came to them walking on the water. Then they will understand not just that he walked on water and silenced the storm, but they will understand WHY. Because the disciples cry out to him, and because he is the Lord of the wind and the waves. Because the wind and the waves AND THE DISCIPLES THEMSELVES were brought into being through his power, and obey his voice. They will see who it really is that suffered and died: the Lord of all Creation, who was in the beginning with God. 

And isn’t that just what we need in our own stormy midnights? Because here we are too: his disciples, storm-tossed, straining at the oars and reaching the point of exhaustion, surrounded in our lives by darkness and buffeted by the winds of chaos, or the waves of sickness, or family trouble, or difficulties at work, or financial trouble or loneliness – or menaced by sinful habits that we find loathsome but can’t seem to change. How often do we feel trapped by this or that, struggling at the oars of our weakness, hemmed in by the rising tide, in danger of drowning. Its into THIS context that our Lord comes to us, piercing right through the turbulence and the darkness with his supernatural stride. And what attracts his attention is your cry for help, your recognition of the real danger posed to your soul by the darkness and temptation that surrounds you day by day. But thanks be to God that Jesus WILL NOT PASS YOU BY when you cry out to him in your heart, in prayer. He will come to you. And he will get into the buffeted, rocking boat of your life. The winds will cease. And he will begin to open your heart to the mystery of his life and his death in you, and to the true meaning of your life and your death in him. Your job is to let that mystery begin to unfold in your heart, or to unfold anew, today with his words: whatever your darkness, whatever winds of affliction beat against you, whatever waves of sinfulness threaten to pull you under… “Do not be afraid. I AM.” 

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

holy cross sermon for the eighth sunday after pentecost, july 19, 2015

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

Two weeks ago, before I fled the state, I spoke in a critical register about the decision of the Supreme Court purporting to broaden the definition of marriage to include same sex relationships, and the official revision of the Episcopal Church’s canons in the same direction. Today I would like to offer a kind of “part 2” to those critical reflections. This time, though, in a constructive register.

One of my leitmotifs is how the cross is the archetype of marriage. Indeed one of the consistent teachings of the Fathers, and of the apostles themselves, is that all of salvation history in the Old Testament, beginning with the narrative of creation in Genesis, is illuminated in the person of Jesus. In him we are able to see, at last, what it was all about from the very beginning. We see in him the final purpose of creation, of the election of Abraham, of God’s deliverance of his people from bondage in Egypt, the giving of the Law, the building of the temple, the consecration of David as king, etc. etc. etc. All of it – the whole narrative arc of human history, and in fact the whole narrative arc of the history of the world, from the Big Bang onward – has its origin and purpose disclosed in him. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. Of everything.

As I mentioned three weeks ago, one of the things we see in the incarnate Christ, is that the whole thing is oriented toward human flourishing, in a word: it is oriented toward LIFE, and life abundant. We are all about life. Abundant life is the point on the horizon, the point BEYOND the horizon, toward which Christ orients us in every facet of our pilgrimage. The point of our submission to him within the context of the Church’s hierarchy is to make progress on the road toward abundant life.

 

But the way to abundant life that Jesus illuminates is a counterintuitive way. In his words, it is a “narrow” and a “difficult” way, and walking it we find ourselves tempted, in virtue of its narrowness and difficulty, to begin to think that the world’s relatively easy and broad alternatives might be better. We must resist the temptation, and keep our eyes resolutely fixed on the cross. It is the cross, in all its terrible sublimity, that keeps every facet of our lives – including our sexuality – “oriented” correctly, toward the spiritual East, “whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us.”

 

The cross is the nuptial bed on which is consummated the union of divine nature and human nature in the “one flesh” of Jesus. Nothing connotes this more powerfully to me than our Lord’s final “word” from the cross: “It is finished,” “Consummatum est,” in Latin: it is consummated. I spoke about this at some length in the meditations on Haydn’s “Seven Last Words” this past Good Friday. And the difference and complementarity between men and women – which is even and perhaps primarily a physiological difference and complementarity – has been written by God into the fabric of the material world. I don’t see how it is possible to read Genesis and come to any other conclusion, not least in light of the interpretive patrimony of the fathers, the apostles, and our Lord himself.

“God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them,” (Genesis 1.27). And this difference and complementarity between men and women, running down to the bedrock of our chromosomes, does not just float out there as an arbitrary datum. The normative text of our confession precludes this. It is rather an ICON, a sacrament if you will, of the difference and complimentarity of divine nature and human nature. In other words, the fact that men and women are naturally different, but that they fit together precisely in virtue of their differences, intimates a mystery fully disclosed in the person of Christ-crucified: the radical difference between God and man, man’s estrangement from God because of our sin, and the overcoming of that estrangement in the person of Jesus, where God and man, at last, “are no longer two, but one flesh.”

Sexual relationships, contractual or otherwise, that obtain in the context of a lack of sexual difference are not wrong because they are weird or gross. They are wrong because they are incapable of signifying in this way – in the same way that we cannot make Eucharist with fish instead of bread. That does not mean there is something wrong with fish. It simply means that it lacks the in-built capacity of wheat bread to signify what is meant to be signified in the mass. As an ancient Eucharistic prayer put it, “As grain, once scattered on the hillsides was in this broken bread made one, so may your church be gathered from all lands into your kingdom by your Son.” Fish cannot reveal this mystery in virtue of what it is. Bread can.

The cross as archetype of marriage should also chasten the relatively recent idea that marriage is primarily about mutual fulfillment or romantic love, or that it is an avenue toward the maximization of our personal freedoms. That the essence of marriage has little to do with any of that comes most sublimely and achingly to the surface in the self-effacement of spouses within the context of the negative side of the disjunctions of the marriage vows: in their fidelity “…for worse… for poorer… in sickness… until death.” To be sure, marriage can be a pathway to joy, to abundant life, but only to the extent that it is cruciform – to the extent that it takes the cross as its origin, and its final waypoint within the horizon of this world. Seen in this way, marriage becomes a school of self-denial, another facet of the singular vocation of the celibate monk, the context within which our desires are first chastened, then burned to ashes, and ultimately reformed in a heavenly mold.

One commentator on the most recent fruits of the sexual revolution, the Eastern Orthodox priest, Fr. Stephen Freeman, notes that we poisoned the social soil of marriage long ago:

“Those [now] manning the barricades describe themselves as ‘defending marriage.’ That is a deep inaccuracy: marriage, as an institution, was surrendered quite some time ago. Today’s battles are not about marriage but simply about dividing the spoils of its destruction. It is too late to defend marriage. Rather than being defended, marriage needs to be taught and lived. The Church needs to be willing to become the place where that teaching occurs as well as the place that can sustain couples in the struggle required to live it. Fortunately, the spiritual inheritance of the Church has gifted it with all of the tools necessary for that task. It lacks only people who are willing to take up the struggle.”

This is the constructive project facing those of us who take seriously our patrimony as Christians with respect to marriage. And frankly I find this project much more compelling than critiquing the latest and most advanced insanities of the sexual revolution.  Our task is to return to the foot of the cross, like deer longing for the waterbrooks – sicut cervus. And to rediscover THERE the exemplary habits and disciplines necessary to sustain our pilgrimage toward abundant life – in the water and the blood flowing from the body of our crucified Lord.

This is our source and, as I say, the final waypoint of our life in this world, at the foot of the cross. We, as Christians, married and celibate, gay and straight, have to learn again to conform our lives to Jesus, and keep our eyes fixed resolutely on the cross, to the exclusion of every other commitment. This is how we can form our own lives into a shape that will “dazzle the pagan eye,” in the words of one of my colleagues, Dr. Wesley Hill.

Dr. Hill is an Episcopalian, and professor of theology at Trinity School for Ministry, which has a reputation for theological conservatism. Dr. Hill is gay, and he wrote one of the best reflections I have read on the Supreme Court ruling several weeks ago. Apropos of the foregoing, and because in some ways it describes well my own experience as an unmarried Christian, and not least within the context of this Christian community here at Holy Cross, I will leave you with Dr. Hill’s words:

 

“…say you grew up intensely , conservatively Christian. But say that you also grew up gay, knowing you were mysteriously drawn to the same sex even in childhood and, by adolescence, you were regularly falling in love with your same-sex friends. Say that as you grew older and encountered more liberal, progressive forms of Christianity, you also encountered strong arguments for changing your mind and abandoning historic Christian teaching on marriage and sex. But say, too, that you were loved so well—mainly by Christian married couples, some of them with children and some of them without, all of whom upheld the traditional Christian teaching—so that your embracing the biblical teaching on celibacy (Matthew 19; 1 Corinthians 7) began to seem like a real possibility for living your life full of love, friendship, and hospitality. Say that as you were asked, repeatedly, by Christian couples to become a godparent to their children, and as you were invited to move in and share a house with another Christian couple, you found yourself beginning to really believe the biblical model of celibacy in which living without marriage and sex is a path toward community, not away from it. Say that one day you would sit down to write these words: ‘Jesus has given me brothers and sisters and mothers and children. Knowing my celibate lifestyle, the Christians I’ve befriended have committed themselves, through the unity secured by the Holy Spirit rather than through biological ties, to being my family, whether or not I ever experience marriage myself. They have invited me into their homes, taken me on vacation with them, and encouraged me to consider myself an older sibling to their children.’ Such, in brief, is my story of finding my eye—partly pagan as it is, like everyone else’s in America these days—dazzled by the burnished practice of Christian marriage. That happened to me (or, perhaps I should say, is happening, since conversion is never finished in this life). And it could happen to others too, I believe.”

 

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

%d bloggers like this: