Friday, December 21, 2018

A Winter's Ember Day

The Embertides are roughly quarterly times of prayer on the subject of ministry. They focus on three major aspects of ministry: “for those to be ordained” (the Embertides have often been times set for ordinations), for “the choice of fit persons for the [ordained] ministry,” and for “all Christians in their vocation.”

Like many important but quiet things, the Ember Days don’t get much attention these days. Historically they were fasting periods and treated with some real significance. The theme of Holiness of Life--especially for the clergy--was and is a central one during the Embertides. Recent events in the wider Church have shown just how serious a matter this is, and how much evil is done when we forget to make this a clear priority for the ordained life.

For those clergy and laypeople who take their ascetical life seriously, the Embertdies have been traditional times to make a sacramental confession and meet with a Spiritual Director. The Embertides have, in a few dioceses, been times for the Bishop and clergy to gather for prayer and mutual support in ministry (not something one seems to see any longer in our too-busy-for-the-basics world, sadly).

It can be a bit challenging to “fit in” the Embertides, especially in December. However, this is perhaps indicative of the entire problem of living as a secular person while calling oneself a Christian. We aren’t supposed to “fit in” the practice of our faith with the rest of our life; we are, increasingly, to conform our life to the Gospel and its priorities.

Understood this way, such practices as Embertide stop being “extras” and become aids in the gradual conversion of one’s life from the patters of the Kingdom of Death to those of the Kingdom of God. Thus, the awkwardness of a Winter’s Ember Day in the midst of the pre-Christmas rush becomes a preparation to receive the gift God gives in that most holy season.

Below are a few resources traditionally used for the Embertides: A Litany for Ministry adapted from the Ordination rites of the Book of Common Prayer, concluding with the three great collects for this season, the Southwell Litany, for use by clergy in assessing the state of their ministry, and the Litany of the Holy Spirit, for use by everyone in praying the guidance of the Holy Spirit in our service to God. These devotions may be used as part of the Daily Office or as stand-alone forms for self-examination and prayer. I commend them to you.

May your Embertide not be “another thing” to do, but a gift received for growing freedom in Christ.


A Litany for Ministry

God the Father,
 Have mercy on us.
God the Son,
 Have mercy on us.
God the Holy Spirit,
 Have mercy on us.
Holy Trinity, one God,
 Have mercy on us.
We pray to you, Lord Christ.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For the holy Church of God, that it may be filled with truth and love, and be found without fault at the Day of your Coming, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For all members of your Church in their vocation and ministry, that they may serve you in a true and godly life, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For N., our Presiding Bishop, N., our bishop, and for all bishops, priests, and deacons, that they may be filled with your love, may hunger for truth, and may thirst after righteousness, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
Forall bishops, priests, and deacons in your Church, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
That theymay be renewed in grace faithfully to fulfill the duties of this ministry, build up your Church, and glorify your Name, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
That by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit theymay be sustained and encouraged to persevere to the end, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For their families, that they may be adorned with all Christian virtues, we pray to you, O Lord.
  Lord, hear our prayer.
For all who fear God and believe in you, Lord Christ, that our divisions may cease and that all may be one as you and the Father are one, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For the mission of the Church, that in faithful witness it may preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For those who do not yet believe, and for those who have lost their faith, that they may receive the light of the Gospel, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For the peace of the world, that a spirit of respect and forbearance may grow among nations and peoples, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For those in positions of public trust, that they may serve justice and promote the dignity and freedom of every person, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For a blessing upon all human labor, and for the right use of the riches of creation, that the world may be freed from poverty, famine, and disaster, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer; for refugees, prisoners, and all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For ourselves; for the + forgiveness of our sins, and for the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives, we pray to you, O Lord.
 Lord, hear our prayer.
For all who have + died in the communion of your Church, and those whose faith is known to you alone, that, with all the saints, they may have rest in that place where there is no pain or grief, but life eternal, we pray to you, O Lord.
  Lord, hear our prayer.
Rejoicing in the fellowship of the ever-blessed Virgin Mary, St. ___________, and all the saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life to Christ our God.
To you, O Lord our God.

Lord, have mercy.
  Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

I.  For those to be ordained

Almighty God, the giver of all good gifts, in your divine providence you have appointed various orders in your Church: Give your grace, we humbly pray, to all who are [now] called to any office and ministry for your people; and so fill them with the truth of your doctrine and clothe them with holiness of life, that they may faithfully serve before you, to the glory of your great Name and for the benefit of your holy Church; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

II.  For the choice of fit persons for the ministry

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

III. For all Christians in their vocation

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers, which we offer before you for all members of your holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Litany of Remembrance

Commonly called “The Southwell Litany”

[Dr. George Ridding, first Bishop of Southwell, who composed this Litany for use at meetings of his clergy, was accustomed to introduce it with the following words:

Seeing, brethren, that we are weak men but entrusted with a great office, and that we cannot but be liable to hinder the work entrusted to us by our infirmities of body, soul, and spirit, both those common to all men and those specially attaching to our office, let us pray God to save us and help us from the several weaknesses which beset us severally, that he will make us know what faults we have not known, that he will shew us the harm of what we have not cared to control, that he will give us strength and wisdom to do more perfectly the work to which our lives have been consecrated--for no less service than the honor of God and the edifying of his Church. I will ask you to let me first say the suffrage to each petition, and then all join in repeating it together; after which a short pause shall be made. 

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.

A Litany of the Holy Spirit
(Especially for use at the Embertides)

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

O God the Father, of heaven;
            Have mercy upon us.
O God the Son, Redeemer of the world;
            Have mercy upon us.
O God the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
            Have mercy upon us.
O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God;
            Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, who at the beginning didst move upon the face of the waters;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whose inspiration holy men of old spake as they were moved;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, power of the highest, that didst overshadow Mary;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, through whom the holy Child Jesus waxed strong in spirit, and was filled with wisdom;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who didst descent like a dove, and lighten upon Christ our Lord, at his baptism;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, of whom Jesus was led up into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, eternal Spirit, through whom Christ our Priest and Victim offered himself without spot to God;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who on the day of Pentecost didst descend upon the Apostles in the likeness of fiery tongues;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom we have been brought out of darkness and error into the clear light and true knowledge of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom we were new-born in Baptism;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who didst strengthen us with they sevenfold gift at Confirmation;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, who makest intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered;
            Have mercy upon us.
O Holy Spirit, by whom the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts;
            Have mercy upon us.
By thy eternal procession from the Father and the Son;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy glorious work in the mystery of the Incarnation;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy lighting as a dove upon Jesus at his baptism;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy descent in likeness of fire on the day of Pentecost;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy life-giving power and might;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thine all-powerful intercession;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
By thy continual abiding in the Church;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From all sin;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From presumption and despair;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From impenitence and hardness of heart;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From envy, hatred, and malice, and all uncharitableness;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From impurity, whether of mind or body, and from all that has ever defiled thy temple within us;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the spirit of thoughtlessness and levity;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the spirit of covetousness and self-seeking;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From the lust of honor and pride of life;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From deafness to they call and warnings;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From neglect of thy graces and inspirations;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
From that sin against thee which has no forgiveness;
            Deliver us, O Holy Spirit.
 [In our preparation for the work of the ministry;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In the solemn hour of Ordination;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.]
In our dealings with souls committed to our charge;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In success and in failure;
            Help us, O Holy Spirit.
In the solemn account that we must one day give;
            Save us and help us, we humbly beseech thee, O Lord.
We sinners do beseech thee to hear us, O Holy Spirit, that it may please thee to guide thy holy Church universal into all truth, and to fill it with thy love;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may give diligence to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That, as we live in the Spirit, we may also walk in the Spirit;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may renounce the devil, the world, and the flesh;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may mortify the deeds of the body;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That with sincerity of purpose we may aim in all things at God’s greater glory;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That, in all our thoughts, words, and words, we may be confirmed more and more to the life and passion of the Lord Jesus;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be gentle, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may ever reverently handle and devoutly receive the blessed Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be enabled to shew forth thy light in the world, and be holy examples to the flock of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may be filled with thy sevenfold gift; the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and ghostly strength, the spirit of knowledge and true godliness, and the spirit of thy most holy fear;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That in our ministry we may not care to please, nor fear to displease, any but him who has called us to his service;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may count not our lives dear unto us, so that we may finish our course with joy, and the ministry received of the Lord Jesus;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may ever be mindful of that solemn account, which, for ourselves and others, we must one day give at the judgment-seat of Christ;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
That we may have grace to persevere unto the end;
            Hear us, O Holy Spirit.
Holy Spirit;
            We beseech thee to hear us.
Lord, and Giver of life;
            We beseech thee to hear us.
Thou who didst descend at Pentecost;
            Have mercy upon us.

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

Our Father, &c.
V. The Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost;
R. He shall teach you all things.

Let us pray.
God, who didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people by the sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savor, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts be open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of thy faithful people is governed and sanctified: Receive our supplications and prayers which we offer before thee for all members of thy holy Church, that in their vocation and ministry they may truly and godly serve thee; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

An Advent Litany


The week prior to Christmas Day has a special seasonal tradition of prayer called the O Antiphons. These short addresses to the Messiah, drawn from the Book of the Prophet Isaiah, are said or sung before and after the Magnificat (the Song of Mary from Luke 1:46-55) each night, beginning on December 17th. These antiphons are the source for the verses in the well-known Advent hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."

These antiphons have been skillfully adapted for use as an Advent litany by the editors of the new edition of the St. Augustine's Prayer Book. This litany encourages one to praise the Messiah, to contemplate the nature of His reign, to intensify our focus of preparation in the final stage of Advent, and to intercede for the world. The prayers that follow explore various Advent themes and might be used on a rotating basis.

Let the final days of Advent make for a deeper contemplation of Our Lord's two comings, so we approach the Feast of the Nativity with a heart made ready, like the manger, to receive the Infant King.

+  +  +

O Wisdom, proceeding from the Most High, reaching from one end to another, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: 
Come and teach us the way of understanding.

O Adonai and Leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the burning bush and on Mount Sinai gave the Law: 
Come to deliver us with your strong arm.

O Root of Jesse, given as a sign for all peoples, in whose presence kings are silenced and before whom all nations will be judged: 
Come with the day of peace and do not delay.

O Key of David, who opens and none can shut, leading us to life everlasting: 
Come and lead out those bound in chains.

O Day Spring, the bright and morning star, the eternal light that enlightens all: 
Come and shine on those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death.

O King of the Nations, chosen and precious cornerstone, binding in one all peoples: 
Come quiet the strife that afflicts your children.

O Emmanuel, the promise and the fulfillment of all promises: 
Come and bring among us the joy of your kingdom.

Even so, Lord Jesus, quickly come. Amen.

Make us watchful and alert, O Lord our God, that when he comes, your Son Christ our Lord will not find us sleeping in sin or distracted with fears, but awake, strong in faith, active in service, and rejoicing in your praises, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

May Christ, whose second coming in power and great glory we await, X make us steadfast in faith, joyful in hope, and constant in love. Amen.

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Purify our conscience, Almighty God, by your daily visitation, that your Son Jesus Christ, at his coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The year declines and our days draw to a close: let us, for it is time, amend our doings to the praise of Christ; let our lamps be burning, for the exalted Judge cometh to judge the nations. Amen.

Lord, you have set before us the great hope that your kingdom shall come on earth, and have taught us to pray for its coming; give us grace to discern the signs of its dawning, and to work for the perfect day when your will shall be done on earth as it is in heaven; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From The St. Augustine’s Prayer Book,
Revised Edition

Thursday, October 18, 2018

St. Luke, Evangelist of the True Physician


As we celebrate the Feast of St. Luke, the Collect used for this day adroitly combines two things we know about him from the sacred scripture into one prayer:

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

By emphasizing these two things together, the prayer reminds us of the spiritual truth that the Gospel, when truly preached and truly received, always leads to the healing of the human person, a deepening of proper love for God, neighbor, and self, and the right praise of God.

As a pastor of souls, one of the ongoing facets of spiritual care I experience and try to share is the unified reality of True Teaching and True Healing. When the Gospel is received from God in loving humility and lived with that same form of humility, it results in the healing of the soul. Old wounds are seen for what they are, exposed to God’s mercy and truth, and gradually what was either an open sore or painful scar tissue is made into a place of sacred encounter, registering the realityof suffering but also the unique powerof divine love to overcome, renew, and reveal.

When I was a child my family took a vacation in North Carolina. This afforded a person who had grown up with the cold Pacific ocean in Oregon the opportunity to swim in warm sea waters. It was delightful in the extreme. While doing so, I managed to gash one of my toes quite deeply on an unseen object, severing a nerve and bringing an idyllic experience to a sudden end. We didn’t seek any medical care, letting nature take its course. After the wound healed I had an uncomfortable scar and a lack of feeling in part of a big toe. Afterwards, each time I walked barefoot I was reminded of what had happened. It took years for me to stop feeling pain from it.

When we receive spiritual or emotional trauma, we often develop a psychic form of scar tissue that is both inflexible and painful. Such pain can become habitual, unnoticed…but it remains real and finds its way out into the world through our thoughts, words, choices, and motives in all our relationships and activities. The way this pain comes through to others may remain opaque to us for many years—or even for the remainder of our life. It may even distort or cut off our communion with God. This is one of the saddest truths I know.

The Gospel is not simply a book or words: it is a reality of encounter with God and thus with the divine, loving purpose for us. Christ Jesus embodied the Gospel. 

St. Luke’s Gospel account begins with his assurance that “I too decided, after investigating everything carefully from the very first, to write an orderly account for you…so that you may know the truth concerning the things about which you have been instructed” (Luke 1:3-4)as a way of saying that what he is delivering is not merely words about Jesus, but the power of the Gospel to heal and transform. It is this power we desire so much, yet that seems so lacking in the “institutional” forms of Christianity today.

On St. Luke’s Day we do more than celebrate a particular saint. The Church itself receives a challenge today: to live not as an organization externalto the healing Gospel as if we somehow owned or regulated it, but to embodyit through a profound interior communion made visible in and through its observable life. This is authentic sacramentality.

This requires a great humility, a deep acceptance of the Church’s compromised history and its utter incompleteness without a total dependence on Christ, as opposed to the earthly systems of power, retribution, and control we see all around us today (or, that have come to be “acceptable” within the Church itself).

The Gospel according to Luke is full of parables and stories of such total dependence on God’s mercy in Christ—we need only look at Zacchaeus and the Prodigal Child. This type of dependence is essential for true healing, the healing of the soul and heart that leads to eternal life. That type of healing does not accept painful scar tissue as normal; neither does it vent unhealed hurt on others in the name of moral perfection, legal conformity, or ideological adherence. Rather, such dependence offers the totality of our need, the totality of our damage, to Christ in mystical communion for his unique, softening, cleansing, and total renewal.

It is this sort of healing, this type of Church and form of living in the Gospel of Jesus Christ we celebrate today.