Saturday, March 11, 2017

Embertide in Lent

Today is the final day in the Lenten Embertide, one of the quarterly periods of focus on prayer for ministry in the Church Calendar. The Embertides can slip away unnoticed quite easily in our busy lives, but for those who take the Liturgical Year as the pattern for life (and not a charming leftover from another era or a curious hobby), they form an important part of how we see our work in the Vineyard not as our own, but God's work through us.

Because it is inevitable that we will sully that work through our own sin, it is essential we take time out from the day-to-day of ministry (lay or ordained) to reflect on the character of our discipleship. There are a variety of tools available for this work, but I still value Bishop Ridding's "Litany of Remembrance" (sometimes called the Southwell Litany because he was the first bishop of that diocese and wrote it there for the use of his parish clergy when they would gather at the Embertides). It is probing, wise, and not excessively negative or anxious. To me, it is a classic example of Anglican realism and ascetic practicality...even if it does have some delightful passages of Victorian purple prose here and there.

I pray that you, wherever you are, will take time to pray and consider the shape of your offering to Christ as a minister (whether ordained or not) of the Gospel. Our common baptism is our entrance into this work, but it is not the last word. What the current "word" spoken by our ministry is requires some consideration; otherwise, what we will be sharing is not the Gospel but our own message...and the world is already far too full of that sort of thing.

A Litany of Remembrance

Let us pray.

O Lord, open our minds to see ourselves as Thou seest us, or even as others see us and we see others, and from all unwillingness to know our infirmities,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From moral weakness of spirit; from timidity; from hesitation; from fear of men and dread of responsibility, strengthen us with courage to speak the truth in love and self-control; and alike from the weakness of hasty violence and weakness of moral cowardice,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From weakness of judgment; from the indecision that can make no choice; from the irresolution that carries no choice into act; and from losing opportunities to serve Thee,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From infirmity of purpose; from want of earnest care and interest; from the sluggishness of indolence, and the slackness of indifference; and from all spiritual deadness of heart,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From dullness of conscience; from feeble sense of duty; from thoughtless disregard of consequences to others; from a low idea of the obligations of our Christian calling; and from all half-heartedness in our service for Thee,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From weariness in continuing struggles; from despondency in failure and disappointment; from overburdened sense of unworthiness; from morbid fancies of imaginary backslidings, raise us to a lively hope and trust in Thy presence and mercy, in the power of faith and prayer; and from all exaggerated fears and vexations,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From self-conceit, vanity and boasting; from delight in supposed success and superiority, raise us to the modesty and humility of true sense and taste and reality; and from all harms and hindrances of offensive manners and self-assertion,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From affectation and untruth, conscious or unconscious; from pretence and acting a part, which is hypocrisy; from impulsive self-adaptation to the moment in unreality to please persons or make circumstances easy, strengthen us to manly simplicity; and from all false appearances,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From love of flattery; from over-ready belief in praise; from dislike of criticism; from the comfort of self-deception in persuading ourselves that others think better than the truth of us,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From all love of display and sacrifice to popularity; from thought of ourselves in forgetfulness of Thee in our worship; hold our minds in spiritual reverence; and in all our words and works from all self-glorification,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From pride and self-will; from desire to have our own way in all things; from overweening love of our own ideas and blindness to the value of others; from resentment against opposition and contempt for the claims of others; enlarge the generosity of our hearts and enlighten the fairness of our judgments; and from all selfish arbitrariness of temper,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From all jealousy, whether of equals or superiors; from grudging others success; from impatience of submission and eagerness for authority; give us the spirit of brotherhood to share loyally with fellow-workers in all true proportions; and from all insubordination to law, order and authority,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From all hasty utterances of impatience; from the retort of irritation and the taunt of sarcasm; from all infirmity of temper in provoking or being provoked; from love of unkind gossip, and from all idle words that may do hurt,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

In all times of temptation to follow pleasure, to leave duty for amusement, to indulge in distraction and dissipation, in dishonesty and debt, to degrade our high calling and forget our Christian vows, and in all times of frailty in our flesh,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

In all times of ignorance and perplexity as to what is right and best to do, do Thou, O Lord, direct us with wisdom to judge aright, order our ways and overrule our circumstances as Thou canst in Thy good Providence; and in our mistakes and misunderstandings,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

In times of doubts and questionings, when our belief is perplexed by new learning, new thought, when our faith is strained by creeds, by doctrines, by mysteries beyond our understanding, give us the faithfulness of learners and the courage of believers in Thee; alike from stubborn rejection of new revelations, and from hasty assurance that we are wiser than our fathers,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

From strife and partisanship and division among the brethren, from magnifying our certainties to condemn all differences from all arrogance in our dealings with all men,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Give us knowledge of ourselves, our powers and weaknesses, our spirit, our sympathy, our imagination, our knowledge, our truth; teach us by the standard of Thy Word, by the judgments of others, by examinations of ourselves; give us earnest desire to strengthen ourselves continually by study, by diligence, by prayer and meditation; and from all fancies, delusions, and prejudices of habit, or temper, or society,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Give us true knowledge of our brethren in their differences from us and in their likenesses to us, that we may deal with their real selves, not measuring their feelings by our own, but patiently considering their varied lives and thoughts and circumstances; and in all our relations to them, from false judgments of our own, from misplaced trust and distrust, from misplaced giving and refusing, from misplaced praise and rebuke,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Chiefly, O Lord, we pray Thee, give us knowledge of Thee, to see Thee in all Thy works, always to feel Thy presence near, to hear and know Thy call. May Thy Spirit be our will, and in all our shortcomings and infirmities may we have sure faith in Thee,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

Finally, O Lord, we humbly beseech Thee, blot out our past transgressions, heal the evils of our past negligences and ignorances, make us amend our past mistakes and misunderstandings; uplift our hearts to new love, new energy and devotion, that we may be unburdened from the grief and shame of past faithlessness to go forth in Thy strength to persevere through success and failure, through good report and evil report, even to the end; and in all time of our tribulation, in all time of our prosperity,

Save us and help us, we humbly beseech Thee, O Lord.

O Christ, hear us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.

Our Father…

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all forever. Amen.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Yes of God for the Path Ahead...

There is one thing we are proud of: our conscience assures us that in our dealings with our fellow-men, and above all in our dealings with you, our conduct has been governed by a devout and godly sincerity, by the grace of God and not by worldly wisdom. There is nothing in our letters to you but what you can read for yourselves, and understand too.  Partial as your present knowledge of us is, you will I hope come to understand fully that you have as much reason to be proud of us, as we of you, on the Day of our Lord Jesus. It was because I felt so confident about all this that I had intended to come first of all to you and give you the benefit of a double visit: I meant to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and after leaving Macedonia, to return to you, and you would then send me on my way to Judaea. That was my intention; did I lightly change my mind?

Do I, when I frame my plans, frame them as a worldly man might, so that it should rest with me to say 'yes' and 'yes', or 'no' and 'no'?  As God is true, the language in which we address you is not an ambiguous blend of Yes and No. The Son of God, Christ Jesus, proclaimed among you by us…was never a blend of Yes and No. With him it was, and is, Yes. He is the Yes pronounced upon God's promises, every one of them. That is why, when we give glory to God, it is through Christ Jesus that we say 'Amen'. And if you and we belong to Christ, guaranteed as his and anointed, it is all God's doing; it is God also who has set his seal upon us, and as a pledge of what is to come has given the Spirit to dwell in our hearts. (From 2 Corinthians 1:12-22, NEB)

Today’s appointed reading from Paul’s Second Letter to the Church in Corinth, is an important example of the way Christians are to go about discernment and decision-making. If we take a look at it with care, we will benefit from the experience—and better understand our Lenten preparation.

St. Paul begins the section with a reminder that we may be proud only of the victory of God in us…nothing else. He tells the Corinthians that this victory in his own life is seen by the way he makes choices not by exercising his own independent will (something he was very good at, we know, before his conversion to Christ), but by living in God’s free gift of love and direction…his grace.

This grace doesn’t reduce us to the level of puppets, however. It means we still may exercise our own choices and thinking…but in concert with God. That concert or synergy is always present with St. Paul and makes reading his letters even more interesting. He remains a human being, with a will and passions and a personality; that much is very clear from his writings! But, the will and passions and personality are now in a loving and ever-deepening dialogue or communion with God, and that communion yields clarity of discernment about choices to be made.

The Apostle then goes on to say that instead of a worldly diffidence or willfulness—weighing everything out with uncertainty, acting on impulse, or “charting our own course”—a person of faith is always becoming more and more “in Christ” so that the decisions made are so much in concert with the living Christ that they are natural, appropriate, and made from God’s love, not human anxiety or thirst for power and control. Instead of pointing to ourselves, such decisions point to God and the true need of the other in our life.

This “becoming in Christ” is not something we can accomplish on our own. No list of “10 techniques for becoming a Christian” can or should exist. Instead, St. Paul tells us that this is “all God’s doing,” and happens because of the Holy Spirit given to us as a result of our decision for Christ. When the Spirit is given to us—and this is sealed and made manifest in Holy Baptism—we are made part of Christ’s Body and are set on the journey of growing more and more into Christ, becoming that “new organism” the Apostle speaks of elsewhere, a kind of being that lives in increasing harmony with God’s revealed will for this life and in eternity.

This is a manifestation of the Peace of God that was made incarnate in Christ. To acquire that peace, it is necessary that we strip away all that is not Christ in our lives. This is our ascetic cooperation with God, and in doing this we enter more and more into the eternal prayer of love and unity between the Father and the Son in the Holy Spirit. It is out of that loving unity that Christians are to act.

The stripping-away process I speak of is part of all Christian life, but especially it is the focus of Holy Lent. As we approach this great season each year, it is essential we take stock of our lives and see where it is still “no” and “yes” in our life with God. God, who has said “yes” once and for all in Christ, beckons us to do the same with Him. Our God makes no compromises with diffidence or willfulness—the “no” in us. For our complete communion, we must surrender all ourselves to Him for his loving and redemptive purposes, his eternal and joyous affirmation.

Understood this way, repentance/ascesis is the farthest thing from punishment or some sort of painful “no” in our life. It is the gateway to a life of “yes” with God, our neighbor, and our potential and true self.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

A Light to Enlighten the Nations…Every Day.

At each baptism in the Episcopal Church a candle, lit from the Paschal Candle, is given to the newly-baptized (or an adult sponsor). While there is no “official” liturgical formula for this action, I usually use these words when presenting the candle: “Receive the light of Christ, that when the bridegroom comes you may go forth with all the saints to meet him; and see that you keep the grace of your baptism. Amen.”

Very often these baptismal candles are extinguished and put in their presentation box, and then packed away—a memento in some special place at home, never to see the light of day again. While reasonable in a purely human way, it is a great mistake in the spiritual life to put the “light of Christ” in a box and stow it away as a kind of pleasant memory.

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ in the Temple (also known as Candlemas) celebrates an event recorded in the Gospel according to Luke, Chapter 2. It is a unique window into a moment of beauty and significance, pointing not only to Christ’s identity as Messiah, but to the great humility of God in coming to be our Savior, the great love and risk taken by the Blessed Virgin Mary in bearing the Son of God into the world, and the utterly unexpected people (such as Simeon and Anna) God uses to proclaim the truth.

This day is also a celebration of light: the light of God’s physical presence in Christ coming into the Temple, the light that enlightens all people (about which Simeon’s canticle in Luke 2:29-32 speaks), and the light each of us walk in when we follow Jesus not as a good teacher or one who agrees with our personal opinions, but (as St. Peter says in John 6:68) the one “who has the words of eternal life.” It is that latter light that must not be forgotten or packed away or in any other sense become merely theoretical.

At Candlemas it the Church’s ancient custom to assemble for worship at a place apart from the usual gathering-spot and there to receive, light, and bless candles. After hearing again St. Simeon’s words about “a light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of your people Israel,” we physically bear this light in procession into the darkened church building, recalling Christ’s entry into the Temple so long ago.

The privilege as Christians to bear light into darkness is, however, a current obligation. From the moment of baptism, we are made part of a Body of Light. This holy day makes concrete and visual what is always true. We may all be called to bear the Light of Christ differently—for some the quiet but intense encounter of the aged Simeon, or perhaps the energetic witness of Anna, or the wonderment-in-the-midst of events of the Blessed Virgin or St. Joseph—but bear that light we must.

So, take out your baptism candle and burn it on this day and on the anniversary of your baptism. If your parish has a Candlemas liturgy, attend it and hold your light consciously and with gratitude. If your church doesn’t observe this holy day, agitate for it next year and light a candle tonight while reading the collect and lessons for this day, rejoicing in the light of Christ now come into your life—and “keep the grace of your baptism” anew, and always.

Friday, November 11, 2016

On Veterans Day and the Feast of St. Martin of Tours

A Prayer for Veterans Day:

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad.  Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The eleventh of November has, for Anglican Christians in the United States and elsewhere, a double meaning. It is a secular day of great solemnity (known formerly as Armistice Day and since the Eisenhower presidency as Veterans Day). It originally marked the day when the First World War ended. That war, perhaps more than any other single thing, gave birth the world we still live in. Veteran's Day is also a recognition of the many forms of cost borne by those who serve in the armed forces, as well as their families and loved-ones.

But November eleventh has another meaning for us: it is the commemoration of St. Martin of Tours (AD 316-397): Roman soldier, Christian convert, monk, and finally bishop. His life was a fascinating story of living on the borderland between the pagan and Christian worlds, as well as taking seriously the implications of the Gospel in day-to-day living—most famously in the legend of the still-unbaptized Martin cutting his cloak in two in order to share with a nearly-naked beggar, who turned out to be Christ in disguise.

Part of Martin’s story was the difficulty of being a soldier and a faithful disciple of Christ. It has never been easy to hold these two things together. For early Christians this was particularly an issue, as the normal practice was to renounce the shedding of blood once one became a follower of Jesus. Tried for cowardice, he volunteered to go to the front unarmed, to die there. The war ended before this could be brought to pass, and Martin left the army to become a monk and eventually a bishop. Interestingly, in the battle with the great heresies of the time, the staunchly-orthodox Martin was a victim (being flogged by the pro-Arian authorities in one city), but refused as bishop to enact any policy of violence against heretics himself. He was truly a man of faith and integrity, seeing the folly of hypocrisy wherever it occurred and holding a consistent faith and practice for himself (something we are all called to do, of course; he shows that this is entirely possible for us).

Veterans Day is, for Christians, a day to recognize the tremendous cost of war, the ministry of Christ as the Prince of Peace, and to pray for all those in the military—whose lives are often in danger or hardship, and frequently involved with temptations to commit acts of brutality and carnality. So many bear the scars (physical and emotional) from war and its apparatus; yet, we do want truly good people to be involved in the waging of war, rather than only the most bestial and carnal in the population. On top of this, of course, we pray for peace.

St. Martin’s Day (also known as Martinmas) is a day to recall a saint of great faithfulness and compassion who labored under circumstances similar to our own: conflicting claims for loyalty, demands for conformity to earthly power, and the temptation to use violence in the Name of God. His witness for a consistent ethic of orthodox faith and personal practice of the Gospel is the essential mark of a true Christian. There can be no authentic Christianity without both—something that our branch of the Christian tree seems to struggle with a great deal now.

May we who share with Holy Martin the name of Christian, take courage from his witness, and share with him life eternal in his Lord and ours!

The Collect for the Feast of St. Martin of Tours:
 Lord God of hosts, you clothed your servant Martin the soldier with the spirit of sacrifice, and set him as a bishop in your Church to be a defender of the catholic faith: Give us grace to follow in his holy steps, that at the last we may be found clothed with righteousness in the dwellings of peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Praying for the Dead: The De Profundis

Below are prayers for the dead from the new St. Augustine’s Prayer Book, to be offered at the close of day (traditionally at around 9 PM). These prayers may be said at other times (All Souls’ Day, after the Eucharist, and especially in times of mourning and before the Burial Liturgy). They take their name from the first two words in Latin of Psalm 130, a psalm long associated with the sick, those in peril, or the dead.

130   De profundis

1       Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
     let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.

2       If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
     O Lord, who could stand?

3       For there is forgiveness with you; *
     therefore you shall be feared.

4       I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
     in his word is my hope.

5       My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
     more than watchmen for the morning.

6       O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
     for with the Lord there is mercy;

7       With him there is plenteous redemption, *
     and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

V. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let light perpetual shine upon them.

Our Father &c.

V. And lead us not into temptation.
R. But deliver us from evil.
V. From the gates of hell:
R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.
V. May they + rest in peace.
R. Amen.
V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto thee.

Set free from every bond, O Lord, the soul(s) of thy servant(s) N.[N.], that in the glory of the resurrection, he may be raised up amid thy saints and elect unto newness of life. Amen.

Lord Jesus, whose loving heart was ever touched by the sorrows of others, have mercy upon the souls of the faithful departed, and grant them a place of refreshment, light, and peace whence pain and sorrow and sighing are driven away; and in thy goodness and mercy pardon every sin committed by them in thought, word, and deed; thou who art the resurrection and the life, and who livest and reignest, world without end. Amen.

- or -

Almighty and eternal God, to whom there is never any prayer made without hope of mercy, be merciful to the souls of thy servants being departed from this world in the confession of thy Name that they may be welcomed into the company of the saints, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

V. Rest eternal grant to them, O Lord.
R. And let light perpetual shine upon them.
V. From the gates of hell:
R. Deliver their souls, O Lord.
V. I trust to see the goodness of the Lord
R. In the land of the living.
V. O Lord, hear our prayer.
R. And let our cry come unto thee.

O Lord Jesus Christ, our shepherd and guide, grant us to walk through the valley of the shadow of death fearing no evil, lacking nothing, and accompanied by thee, who thyself hast passed that way and made it light and who now livest and reignest in glory everlasting. Amen.