Friday, April 5, 2013

On Pascha

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more : death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once : but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin : but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  - Romans 6: 9-11

These are the great and holy fifty days of Easter.  The time of Israel's bondage in Egypt is ended.  Having passed through the baptismal waters of the Red Sea, a new people emerges who shall go up to the Mount Sinai and there be consecrated as a nation of priests.  Their old connection with Egypt has been severed, and the armies of Pharaoh have been cut off and destroyed.  No longer shall Israel serve the foreign prince - that lord of slaves, who is himself a thane of hell.  Rather, Israel shall come forth and offer sacrifices unto the One God, the living God.  In the same way we have passed through the waters of baptism and now stand upon the banks and sing the song of triumph with Moses and Miriam. 

We exult in the victory of God who has crushed the Serpant's head and overthrown the power of Death. 
He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has raised the dead from their tombs.
He has taken captivity captive, and those held captive in sin's thrall are set free.
He has taken the keys of Sheol and annihilated the power of Hades' Gate. 
He has restored life to the First Adam, and innocence to Eve, our mother.
He has caused life and refreshment to flow from the Rock and given us the Manna of his Flesh for our food.
He has proclaimed the Gospel unto all the dead, and to the dieing he has brought health and rescue.

As Christ has then died once, and shall never die again, let us forever take hold of the source of Life and forsake the ways of slavery learned in Egypt.  Let us indeed become dead to the ways of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Christ has made them nothing, and he is established as king over all things.  Let us be consecrated to our God and King who alone can lead us in safety through the wilderness to Jordan's bank and through those waters into the inheritance of Abraham which God promised him by oath on Mount Moriah.

These are the days of our deliverance.  Let us sing and rejoice with all our heart.  This day life has shone forth from the grave and all grief is done away, for pardon is freely offered to all mankind.  To God be all honour and glory, world without end.  Amen.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Mandatum Novum

Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

These words, "Where love and charity are, there also is God," reflect the consequences of the New Commandment (mandatum novum) given by our Lord Jesus Christ on the night of the Last Supper.  'Behold, I leave you a new commandment: love one another as I have loved you.'  We often think of love as an emotion, euphoria, or contentment.  In our increasingly sexualized culture, love is often presented in a corrupted form as being erotic and lust-driven, reflecting the disordered desires of our hearts.

Our Lord's demonstration of love through this Holy Week, and particularly now as we embark upon the Triduum Sacra, reveals that love is not a chemical reaction in our brains, nor is it consonant with our corrupted desires.  Rightly ordered love is an act of will; it is a submission of our wills to that of God.  This night our Lord prayed to the Father, 'If it be your will, let this cup pass from me, but not my will but your will be done.'  The love of our Lord who prayed for us in the Garden on this night when he was taken into custody was not an emotional high or bound up in euphoric pleasure.  He was in great distress and anguish.  The Gospels tell us that his sweat were as drops of blood.  Moreover, we may clearly say that this love is far from erotic and other sorts of disordered desire, according to conventional standards at least.

The love of God is the love of service to the weakest, even to the point of death.  Love is hard work.  It is painful and unpleasant.  Love requires us to die to ourselves.  In consequence of this love, we share fellowship with God, for God is love and all true loving has its ultimate source in God.  Thus, ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est.

This is not merely an abstract truth to which we must assent for salvation.  Yes, it is indicative of a reality of life that we are called to lead, be we bishop or layman.  It is a commission.  In the words of His Holiness Francis, Bishop of Rome at his Chrism Mass this morning:
We need to “go out”, then, in order to experience our own anointing, its power and its redemptive efficacy: to the “outskirts” where there is suffering, bloodshed, blindness that longs for sight, and prisoners in thrall to many evil masters. It is not in soul-searching or constant introspection that we encounter the Lord: self-help courses can be useful in life, but to live by going from one course to another, from one method to another, leads us to become pelagians and to minimize the power of grace, which comes alive and flourishes to the extent that we, in faith, go out and give ourselves and the Gospel to others, giving what little ointment we have to those who have nothing, nothing at all.

This is not solely a command to the priests of God, but to all Christians, for the Church is Christ visible in the world.  Saint Athanasius in his great work, On the Incarnation, speaks of the works of the Church performed in the power of the Holy Spirit is real proof of the Incarnation and the victory of Christ over sin and death.  If we are not about the business of loving, we are not worthy of the name Christian.  How is that we bear the title of the Anointed One, and yet we will not liberally distribute the sweet unction of the Gospel and the love of Christ?  Let us this day turn to the Lord and beseech him to be present among us, to supply us with his love and the courage to wash and anoint the feet of all men.  May each of us be found worthy of the title Servus Servorum Dei, Servant of the Servants of God.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Old Homilies: A Confession

"How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent?" - Romans 10:14-15a

Over Christmas break I was attending a class at another seminary.  My first night in town my computer was stolen out of my car (yes, it was foolish of me to keep it there).  Much of my academic, personal, and professional life seemed lost at first, and much remains lost.  Yet, as time goes by I find little bits of my work turning up in unexpected places.  Most recently I discovered a homily I preached on the Feast of the Circumcision (Jan 1, 2012).  Now that a year has elapsed since I preached it, I realize just how foolishly academic and formal it sounds.  Far better for it to have been published in the parish bulletin as a reflection, or else never to see the light of day.  Granted, a good number of the people to whom I was preaching were professors and college students, but I have come to learn that the pulpit is not a lectern.  The preacher's pulpit has no place for promulgating the learnedness of the one preaching.  Our task is to reveal Christ.  Vomiting forth the knowledge I have gorged myself on for almost two years in seminary so far does not make me a minister of the Gospel, but rather one who proclaims death.  The gospel of the self is a (un)gospel of death.  May God forgive me my pride and grant that I should always approach the preaching task with such a humility of mind that I might not obscure Christ, but rather permit the Holy Spirit to utilize my lips so that the Word of God might be planted in the hearts of my hearers, that they might bring forth the fruits of repentance, and joyfully take up their crosses to die with Christ daily.  Jesu, mercy!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Andrew Murray - Humility

Andrew Murray – On Humility

One of the key Christian writers that I return to again and again for teaching and guidance in the Christian life, few are as important for me as Andrew Murray. A writer of numerous books on the Christian life; one that continually refreshes, comforts and challenges me is his book Humility.

Each and every time I read of the wisdom contained in this wonderful little book, I not only find something new to ponder and enact in my life, but also am reminded of how much I need to grow in this most important of graces.

In my recent reading of this wonderful book (an online edition can be found here - the following passage was one of many that stood out:
“When we see that humility is something infinitely deeper than contrition, and accept it as our participation in the life of Jesus, we shall begin to learn that it is our true nobility, and that to prove in being servants of all is the highest fulfillment of our destiny as men created in the image of God.”

Here Murray explicitly states that humility is not a feeling or is not a state of mind at a particular time, it is rather to be the disposition of our life each and every day, in each and every dealing that we have with God and men. ‘Feeling’ or ‘being’ humble is never a temporary experience, but instead is to be the rule for our life. A life centered upon the life of Christ, who is the model par excellence of true humility. The Eternal Word through whom all things were created and from whom all things have their being humbled Himself, so as to be subject to the creation that came into being through Him, so that He could fulfill the will of God.

Humility is not something to be avoided; it is not something to find deliverance from. It is rather the key and foundation for our life in Christ. For it is in humility, and the daily surrender of ourselves to God, that we can be made ready, to be shaped for the work God has for us. It reminds us that while we have many gifts and talents, for those gifts and talents to find their perfect employment is to yield them to God, so that God can direct and use them for His ends. As much as we may think we can serve God in our own strength, it is only by humbling ourselves, our entire being, that we can grow in Christ, and can accomplish ‘the highest fulfillment of our destiny’.

We need to make it, “the object of special desire and prayer and faith and practice.”  Seeking it each day in our continual growth with God focusing our attention and study on the life of Christ whose life of perfect humility, perfect surrender to the will of God, invites and challenges us to seek to imitate such heights within us. It was the spirit of His whole life, to be nothing before the Father, so that the Father could be all in Him. To allow His entire life to be devoted to the glory of God and not to the attainment of glory from man; recognising that true life is found in slavery to God.

May we too seek to imitate the humility of Christ in our lives, to ask for Christ to teach us by His Word, and the Spirit to guide us in the growth of humility within our lives, so we like Christ can attain to give God total mastery of our bodies, so that we can be ever more used for bringing Him glory. To grow in the image of God and be conformed to the likeness of God, finding our fulfillment in total surrender and service to God.

May the following prayer be an aid to you:

Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you may fortify me with the grace of Your Holy Spirit, and give Your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless anxiety and worry.  Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to You, so that your will may be my will. 
Grant that I may be free from unholy desires, and that, for Your love, I may remain obscure and unknown in this world, to be known only to You.
Do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that You perform in me and through me, but rather, referring all honour to You, may I admit only to my infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from You.  Amen

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Worship and Anglicanism

The divine telos of man is the worship and contemplation of God, and participation in His divine Life.  Indeed, worship is the very heart and soul of the human life on account of our status as creaturely beings; it is proper to our nature to worship the One who has brought us into being and to adore the Giver of Life and Being.

But what is worship?  Worship is the offering of worth-ship to God, and it encompasses everything from submission to God, to the offering of ourselves, our souls and bodies unto our Creator, and a humble receptivity from Him of all that is needful for our life.  

Only God is worthy, for he is before all things and there is no being except that He made it to Be.  To ascribe worth-ship to any one or thing other than God is idolatry, and this brings about death.  In offering worship to another creature, we turn ourselves away from the One God and Source of Being to something derivative which itself cannot give life and being, and thus we cut ourselves off from participating in Life itself.  As we persist in an orientation away from God, we begin to fade until we become mere shadows of what we once were.  The Life of God no longer sustains us, and thus we experience death.  Indeed, death does not adequately capture the effects of this breach of communion between God and Man; man fades into shadow, and eventually he becomes a non-being, ceasing to exist, unless he should turn back to God.

This is ultimate goal of the Christian life: to reorient ourselves toward God, to offer worship once more to God alone so that we might partake in His life and once again Be as He intended.  But this is only possible because of the Incarnation.  In turning away from God, we have found ourselves too weak to return.  Like a man dieing of starvation, we became weak and unable to move so much as a finger to save ourselves from our declension into non-being.  Indeed, even if we were able to turn ourselves to behold God once again we should wither and perish, just as the starving man should perish if a great feast were set before him and he gorged himself upon the banquet.  Thus, the Incarnation is God's great rescue of mankind.  In taking on human flesh, he not only came to meet us in our weakness and supply with his power where our strength was lacking, but He veiled His glory so that we might behold Him and, by stages, come again to contemplate His divine Being and participate in His life-giving Life.

Thus, worship lies at the very heart of the redeemed human life and existence.  It is the chief business of the Church and of all Christians.  It is both the great delight and duty of each Christian, and it is the very life of the Church Catholic in heaven and earth.  The Church has always placed great importance upon her corporate worship.  She has in various times and places established different forms for the ordering of her life of worship, though there has always been continuity in its principal features.  As the Church grew and spread into many parts of the Roman Empire and beyond, it became clear that certain regions had received and developed customs of corporate worship that differed from those in other areas, and these differences have always been acknowledged and accepted.

Furthermore, it has generally been considered a privilege of autonomous/autocephalous jurisdictions to adapt the liturgical worship within its purview as need requires, but always in conformity with the received tradition (that which has been handed down) and the Catholic Faith.

This principle concerning the ordering of corporate liturgical worship is one of the important claims of which the Church of England and Anglicanism make concerning their life after the end of Roman patriarchal oversight.  The manifestation of this principle is the Book of Common Prayer which has a long and (in-)famous history of adoption, use, modification, and what as come to be in the Church of England, and in other national/regional Anglican churches, de facto abandoned to the archives.

More could be said on this subject.  Perhaps in the future I will examine whether the BCP still has something to offer the Anglican world or whether it has truly lost all relevance to our present condition.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

John 6:11-13

11  And Jesus took the loaves; and when he had given thanks, he distributed to the disciples, and the disciples to them that were set down; and likewise of the fishes as much as they would.
12  When they were filled, he said unto his disciples, Gather up the fragments that remain, that nothing be lost.
13  Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten.

The Lord here prefigures the Eucharist which he was to celebrate with his disciples, but he does this before the five thousand.  Now the five thousand represent the whole of humanity.  But note that first our Lord distributes to the disciples and they to the crowd.  By this we see the meaning of the Apostolical succession.  For in the giving of the bread, which is the Lord's very flesh, to the disciples, they in tern present Christ to the five thousand.  And so through the generations, the Holy Gospel and the Flesh of Jesus are held before our eyes, the same which we hear with our ears and eat with our mouths.  "Their sound is gone out into all lands, and their words unto the ends of the world," (Psalm 19:4) and "Divided and distributed is the Lamb of God, divided but never disunited, ever eaten but never consumed, and sanctifying those who partake thereof." (Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom)

Now the Lord commanded that the disciples should gather up what remains, and this was done to signify what should happen until the Last Day, that the Apostles should go forth to gather together all who are of Christ, for there are not many loaves but only one Loaf, nor are there many flocks but only one Flock.  Just so, there is only one Church as there is 'one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of us all,' (Ephesians 4:5-6).  For thus it was written by the Apostles, "As this broken bread was scattered over the hills and was brought together becoming one, so gather Your Church from the ends of the earth into Your kingdom, for You have all power and glory forever through Jesus Christ," (Didache 9).  And so it shall be on the Last Day that the Lord shall send forth his angels to gather together the peoples, and the righteous of God shall go into everlasting life, but the unrepentant chaff shall be cast into the furnace.

And upon gathering the pieces together, there numbered twelve baskets.  And this is the number of the New Israel, the holy Church of God, the Body of Christ.  And the loaves numbered five in order to show that in Christ, "through the merits of his most precious death and passion," (Book of Common Prayer) the Law should be fulfilled.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

St. Macarius the Spiritbearer

I heard that Abba Macarius the Egyptian left Scetis one time for the monastic settlement of Nitria for the offering of Abba Pambo and the old men said to him, “Speak a word to the brother,s our father.”

But he said, “I have not yet become a monk but I have seen monks. Once while I was sitting in my cell in Scetis, I thought to myself, 'Go to the desert and learn from what you see there.' This thought remained with me for five years as I said, 'Perhaps it comes from the demons.' The thought persisted, though, so I went into the desert. I found a marshy lake and an island in the middle, and in the beasts of the desert came there to drink, and I saw tow men in the midst of the animals and they were naked. I trembled all over with fear because I thought they were spirits.

“When they saw that I was shaking with fear, they said to me, 'Do not be afraid. We too are men.'

“I said to them, 'Where are you from, and why did you come to this desert?'

“They said, 'We come from a monastery. We agreed to come here forty years ago. One of us is an Egyptian and the other is a Libyan.' They now questioned me: 'How is the world?' and 'Is the Nile rising on time?' and 'Is the world enjoying prosperity?'

“I said to them, 'By the grace of God and your prayers.' Then I asked the how I could become a monk.

“They said to me, 'If one does not renounce all worldly things, he can not become a monk.'

“I said to them, 'I am weak; I cannot be like you.'

“They said to me, 'If you cannot be like us, sit in your cell and weep for your sins.'

“I asked them, 'When winter comes, don't you freeze? And when it gets hot, don't your bodies burn?'

“They said to me, 'God has ordained this for us. We neither freeze in the winter nor burn up in the summer.'

“This is why I told you 'I have not yet become a monk but I have seen monks.' Forgive me, brothers.”