Tuesday, July 1, 2008

This Holy Day

The Feast of the Holy Apostles St. Peter and St. Paul commemorates at least two key facts about their ministry: their complete devotion to the Gospel of Jesus – to the death – and their harmony and unity in teaching.

Many of the icons for this feast show these two great leaders of the early Church embracing or holding a miniature church building between them. These simple gestures show one of the truths behind this day: the Apostolic teaching is based on love: love of God, love of our brother and sister in Christ, and love for Christ’s Body the Church. Without this deep love at its center, all ministry and teaching is in vain.

The Collect for today reminds us of this connection between teaching and unity in love:

Almighty God, whose blessed apostles Peter and Paul glorified you by their martyrdom: Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit, may ever stand firm upon the one foundation, which is Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The unity which is at the heart of the Church comes not from human agency or force, but the Divine Life itself – the Holy Trinity. Whenever we as disciples attempt to replace the Divine origin of our unity with something merely man-made, it always fails. Division ensues, the simplicity of the Gospel and the balance of the faith found in the Creed is lost in a welter of tangents and legalism. Finally, the love which radiates from the Gospel is covered over by human egos and projects… often disguised as lofty ideals or objectives, but yielding none of the long-lasting fruit of the Kingdom sought by Our Lord.

The only way to remain in that Divine Life and Love is through prayer. This is, sadly, the most-overlooked and least-valued part of modern church-life. Instead, we have projects, products, and trends -- often "enforced" by nervous authorities motivated more by ideology than Love. The Feast of the Holy Apostles is devoid of such gimmickry; indeed, the reading from Colossians for the second evensong of this feast specifically dismisses such thinking; it is only the mission of the Kingdom which counts, and all other considerations must vanish.

To be a prayerful Church means being a Church where repentance and humility are lived. It means being a communion of relationship between members rather than being an “institution” with parts or sections that may be spun-off, out-sourced, or “right-sized.” But this may be too difficult for many today, weaned as we have been on the milk of consumerism, materialism, and individualism. Current divisions in the Church are the fruit of such a mutilated notion of the Body of Christ. The imperative of unity illustrated in the Feast of the Apostles has been lost in the hearts of many, replacing Divine Love with human force.

So, for some this feast will always be a mystery. How could St. Peter and St. Paul be an icon of love when they at times differed? How can they embrace forever in heaven when they once (or even more than once) confronted each other on earth?

But for those who have chosen the way of the Apostles, the way of prayerful submission to Christ, this mystery is not a closed door but an open invitation. It is an invitation as are the Holy Mysteries of the Liturgy itself: an invitation into the Divine Love made possible by the Love of God poured out in Christ Jesus.

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