Saturday, September 26, 2009


For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. Luke 15:24

All through my life, I have heard it said that the Church needs to be “relevant” to contemporary society. If memory serves, this was all about the perceived character and “tone” of much of Church life in the 60’s and 70’s: fusty, dull, and essentially closed. I do not doubt this was true of at least some of the Church then (and now). To this day, I associate the smell of a slightly moldy basement with that of many churches in my youth – a smell of old coffee and damp, long-unopened books gathering dust.

And yet, the notion of the Church needing to be “relevant” to the world is a rather odd one, really. It seems to me that the Gospel, when taken as a whole, communicates pretty much the opposite. The world must become relevant to God, who alone is real, complete, and whole. The Church’s ministry in this is to be the herald of these good tidings, to embody the message, to share the news that our search for meaning is at an end… we have been found by the God we rejected; our alienation and our wanderings are over at last. The Parable of the Prodigal Son is, to me, the whole story of our redemption and transformation in miniature. Only when we “come to ourselves” and returned to the Father will we become truly ourselves, for our deepest and fullest identity can only be found in the presence and will of the God who called us into being.

Many churches today find themselves deeply exhausted by the search for an elusive and illusory “relevance.” Sunday by Sunday, each component of the “package” is constantly being weighed as to its “selling power.” Jesus was very accessible, and he ministered to the marginalized, but he was never “packaged” and he never he never tried to “sell” anyone anything. If the Church was once too stodgy, today it runs the risk of being too trivial.

The Church does not need to be relevant. That is marketing lingo. It needs to be profoundly authentic, utterly transparent to the Gospel. There are many ways to be and do this. St. Timothy’s expresses this in a particular range of ways. It is not “better” or “worse” than others for that. But, this parish must be a place where humans can become relevant to themselves, to each other, and to their God again. When this happens, we look at each other and no longer see strangers but sisters and brothers in Christ. We look at Salem and see not overwhelming need but tremendous opportunity. We look to God and see not a distant “concept” or a stern task-master, but a Lover of Souls reaching out to us and giving us the grace to become our potential selves. Each Eucharist is a proclamation of our destiny in God through Christ, our profound relevance to our Creator because of what we have been given by being born anew in Baptism.

We have all been found by God; we who were dead are alive again in Christ. Now, let us have done with searching for a false relevance and renew our commitment to shining with the light of God, that others may find their way back to the Father’s embrace.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

God's Gift and Our Efforts

You can indeed make yourself better, but it is impossible to reach God before he has come to you.
- Fr. Alexander Men.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Summary of True Christology by Richard Hooker

To gather therefore into one sum all that hitherto has been spoken touching this point, there are but four things which concur to make complete the whole state of our Lord Jesus Christ: his Deity, his manhood, the conjunction of both, and distinction of the one from the other being joined into one.

Four Principal heresies here are which have in those things withstood the truth: Arians by bending themselves against the Deity of Christ; Apollinarians by maiming and misinterpreting that which belongeth to his human nature; Nestorians by rending Christ asunder, and dividing him into two persons; the followers of Eutyches by confounding in his person those natures which they should distinguish.

Against these there have been four most famous ancient general councils: the Council of Nice [Nicea] to define against Arians, against Apollinarians the council of Constantinople, the council of Ephesus against Nestorians, against Euychians the Chalcedon council. In four words… truly, perfectly, indivisibly, distinctively; the first applied to his being God, and the second to his being Man, the third to his being of both One, and the fourth to his still continuing in that one Both: we may fully by way of abridgement comprise whatsoever antiquity hath at large handled either in declaration of Christian belief, or in refutation of the foresaid heresies. Within the compass of which four heads, I may truly affirm that all heresies which touch but the person of Jesus Christ, whether they have risen in these latter days, or in any age heretofore, may be with great facility brought to confine themselves.

We conclude therefore that to save the world it was of necessity the Son of God should be thus incarnate, and that God should so be in Christ as hath been declared.

Richard Hooker (c. 1554-1600)

From The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, Book V, 1597

Saturday, September 19, 2009

An Embertide Litany

For use at Ordinations as directed. On Ember Days or other occasions, if desired, this Litany may be used for the Prayers of the People at the Eucharist or the Daily Office, or it may be used separately.

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, 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.

For N., chosen bishop (priest, deacon) in your Church,

we pray to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear our prayer.

That he may faithfully 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 he may be sustained

and encouraged to persevere to the end,

we pray to you, O Lord.

Lord, hear our prayer.

For his family [the members of his household or community],

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 [especially___________],

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,

(blessed N.) 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.

For Clergy and People

Almighty and everlasting God, from whom cometh every

good and perfect gift: Send down upon our bishops, and

other clergy, and upon the congregations committed to their

charge, the healthful Spirit of thy grace; and, that they may

truly please thee, pour upon them the continual dew of thy

blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate

and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.

For the Diocese

O God, by your grace you have called us in this Diocese to a

goodly fellowship of faith. Bless our Bishop(s) N. [and N.],

and other clergy, and all our people. Grant that your Word

may be truly preached and truly heard, your Sacraments

faithfully administered and faithfully received. By your

Spirit, fashion our lives according to the example of your

Son, and grant that we may show the power of your love to

all among whom we live; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


For the Parish

Almighty and everliving God, ruler of all things in heaven

and earth, hear our prayers for this parish family. Strengthen

the faithful, arouse the careless, and restore the penitent.

Grant us all things necessary for our common life, and bring

us all to be of one heart and mind within your holy Church;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Holy Frailty

From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire, and flood; from plague, pestilence, and famine,

Good Lord, deliver us.

There are many, many things we cannot control in life; perhaps this is for us the great “problem.” Secularism, in denying the essential brokenness of humans and the Creation, needs to create a “heaven on earth” in order to seem plausible. Replacing God’s grace with scientism and the doctrine of inevitable progress, the secular human expects ever more solutions to the problems of life. Yet, some things remain beyond our grasp. Therein is a great cause for anxiety in modern life. The current H1N1 flu scare is only the latest occasion for these concerns. While there are a number of ways we can lessen our exposure, and some of the finest scientific minds have worked diligently to bring us a vaccine to battle this particular virus, humans remain vulnerable to various “plagues” today as we have from the beginning. This petition in the Litany brings that vulnerability to the natural world to fore.

The Gospel recognizes that humans live in a dangerous world. Jesus rules out the simplistic idea that bad things only happen to bad people (the victims of Pilate, the Tower of Siloam in Luke 13:1-5). Sometimes, terrible things happen because of terrible coincidences. We hear about this through the news on a regular basis. Many have experienced such life-changing events first hand. Lancelot Andrewes, the great 17th century Anglican bishop and preacher, lived through a rare earthquake in London. It occurred on a Wednesday; for the rest of his life, each Wednesday he called that event to mind, standing in awe of its power, and recognizing – as Jesus taught – that such unforeseen events are a call for us to live our lives in active repentance, ready to enter Eternal Life each day.

Rather than living in fear, or running away from our vulnerability by becoming “control freaks” (in the process often making everyone around us part of our anxiety), the Litany bids us bring to the surface our vulnerability, to admit it and offer it to God. Once again, we are called to be a priestly people: to offer to God in holiness and thanksgiving. Bringing to the surface our fears, our frailty in prayer and calling upon God for protection does not result in “magical” protection. Instead, it places us honestly before God, offering up our absolute need for his protection and strength. It also offers to God the reality of our mortality, something modern people, with our delusions of control and expectations of absolute security, have a particular need to do. Only by being free of the fear of death may we truly embrace Life in its fullness.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Some Embertide Devotions

A Litany of the Holy Spirit

(Especially to be used during the Embertides)

+ + +

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, Sanctifier of the faithful:

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 moved upon the face of the waters;

Have mercy upon us.

O holy Spirit, by whose inspiration prophets and teachers of old spoke as they were moved;

Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, power of the Highest, that overshadowed the Virgin Mary;

Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, through whom the holy Child Jesus grew strong in spirit, and was filled with wisdom;

Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, who descended like a dove and rested upon Christ our Lord at his baptism;

Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Sprit, of whom Jesus was led up into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil;

Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, eternal One, 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 descended 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 are new-born in Baptism;

Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, who strengthens us at Confirmation;

Have mercy upon us.

O Holy Spirit, who continues to make intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered;

Have mercy upon us.

From all sin;

Deliver us, O Holy Spirit

From all arrogance and despair;

Deliver us, O Holy Spirit

From all impenitence and hardness of heart;

Deliver us, O Holy Spirit

From envy, hatred, malice, and all uncharitableness;

Deliver us, O Holy Spirit

From all impurity, whether of mind or body, and from all that has ever defiled your temple within us;

Deliver us, O Holy Spirit

We beseech you to hear us, O Holy Spirit, that it may please you to guide your holy Church universal into all truth, and to fill it with your love;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That we may keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That, as we live in the Spirit, we may also walk in the Spirit;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That we may grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That by your indwelling our thoughts, words, and works, we may be conformed more and more to the life and passion of the Lord Jesus;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That we may grow in the sacred knowledge through the Holy Scriptures and reverently receive and show forth your grace in the Holy Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That we may show forth your light to the world;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That we may ever be mindful of the account which we must one day give at the judgment seat of Christ;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

That we may have grace to persevere to the end;

Grant this, O Holy Spirit

O, Holy Spirit;

We beseech you to hear us.

Lord, and Giver of life;

We beseech you to hear us.

Spirit who descended at Pentecost;

Have mercy on us.

Lord, have mercy.

Christ, have mercy.

Lord, have mercy.

Our Father, &c

V. The Comforter, which is the Holy Spirit;

R. He shall teach you all things.

O God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit; grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in the Holy Comforter; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

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. Amen.

For those to be ordained (Ember Wednesdays)

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.

For the choice of fit persons for the ministry (Ember Fridays)

O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in everyc 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.

For all Christians in their vocation (Ember Saturdays)

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.

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, unto him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

On the True Character of Christian Teaching

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers and sisters, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For all of us make many mistakes. Anyone who makes no mistakes in speaking is perfect, able to keep the whole body in check with a bridle. (James 3: 1-2)

Listen, Job, to what I say and ponder all my words. The teaching of the arrogant has this characteristic: they do not know how to introduce their teaching humbly and they cannot convey correctly to others the things they understand correctly themselves. With their words they betray what they teach; they give the impression that they live on lofty heights from which they look down disdainfully on those whom they are teaching; they regard the latter as inferiors, to whom they do not deign to listen as they talk; indeed they scarcely deign to talk to them at all - they simply lay down the law.

 To teachers of this kind the Lord through the prophet says rightly: But you will rule them with severity and with power. There is no doubt that such as are prone not to correct their subjects with quiet reasoning, but to compel them to change by rough and domineering methods, rule with severity and power.

On the contrary true doctrine all the more effectively shuns the voice of arrogance through reflection, in which it pursues the arrogant teacher himself with the arrows of its words. It ensures that the pride which it attacks in the hearts of those listening to the sacred words will not in fact be preached by arrogant conduct. For true doctrine tries both to teach by words and to demonstrate by living example - humility, which is the mother and mistress of virtues. Its goal is to express humility among the disciples of truth more by deeds than by words.

- From the Moral Reflections on Job by St. Gregory the Great, Bishop of Rome [604]

The thirst for divine correspondence

In his commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict, Dom Sighard Kleiner remarks that we have a deep need and secret desire for a divine correspondence:

Our deepest duty is to perceive the voice of God. Jesus promised to show Himself to the person who loves Him (John 14:21). We have complete confidence in His promise, and that science which, going beyond its limits, wants to cut us off from all transcendence and denies what it cannot reach by its own means we find deceptive. The human soul feels within itself a deep and secret correspondence with the voice of God, Creator and Father, and God Himself has seen fit to confirm our hope by His Word; we have great need of receiving God’s message, we who have no certainty of ourselves. Our intellect is made for thinking, for knowing, for discovering, for finding, but it needs the voice of God if it is not to stray from its proper destiny. God has endowed it with a supernatural sense to perceive truths which are beyond it.

In this, we see one way to understand the human’s unique role as made in the image of God: we require this correspondence, this communion of revelation in love in order to be complete. All ideologies, systems, taxonomies, and other substitutes for this communion will leave us not only satisfied, but spiritually malnourished. It is that malnourishment which fuels so many of the great conflicts in our society and church today.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Feast of the Holy Cross

The Feast of the Holy Cross is a feast of God’s love in triumph over sin, the victory of life over death, light over darkness. Let us celebrate it with joy, thanksgiving, and humility. Let these words of St. Andrew of Crete recall to us the beauty and power of the cross on this Holy Day:

The cross is called Christ's glory; it is saluted as his triumph. We recognize it as the cup he longed to drink and the climax of the sufferings he endured for our sake. As to the cross being Christ's glory, listen to his words: Now is the Son of Man glorified, and in him God is glorified, and God will glorify him at once. And again: Father, glorify me with the glory I had with you before the world came to be. And once more: Father, glorify you name. A voice came from heaven: I have glorified it and will glorify it again. Here he speaks of the glory that would accrue to him through the cross. And if you would understand that the cross is Christ's triumph, hear what he himself also said: When I am lifted up, then I will draw all men to myself. Now you can see that the cross is Christ's glory and triumph.

- St. Andrew of Crete

It was ordained that the Christ should suffer, and on the third day rise from the dead.

Antiphon on the Magnificat for the First Evensong of Holy Cross

We glory in your cross, O Lord, and praise and glorify your holy resurrection; for by virtue of your cross joy has come to the whole world.

Antiphon on Benedictus for the Matins of Holy Cross

Collect for Holy Cross Day

Almighty God, whose son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world to himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who reigns with your and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Perils of a Recycled Faith

Who do you say that I am? (Proper 19, Yr. B: Mark 8: 27-38)

+In the Name of the Father, & of the Son, & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I once worked with a woman who told of a story occurring during the Great Depression in Oregon. It seems that two hobos were in the habit of visiting a particularly generous farm for a free lunch. After a while, the farmer’s wife began feel these visitors where taking advantage of her generosity. The hobos were not able to take her various subtle hints about this, and it was some time until she figured out a course of action. Once again, the two men appeared looking for a meal. She invited them in, prepared lunch for them, and bade them sit down. When they were about to get up after lunch, she asked them to stay for a cup of coffee. As they sipped their java, the farmer’s wife took the lunch plates, put them on the floor and allowed the dogs to lick them clean; whereupon she put them unwashed back into the cupboard. The two hobos looked at each other in disgust and left in haste. They had standards; they never returned.

We often hear today about the importance of recycling. It is counted as a moral duty to recycle used things for new purposes. This is, on the whole, a very good practice and a rejection of wastefulness in a “throw-away society.” Yet, what is a virtue in one arena can be a tremendous vice in another. As the story about the hobos illustrates, there are some things that should not be recycled “as is.”

One such thing is our faith. Notice my wording: it is very careful. I did not say “The Faith,” as in the “The Faith Once Delivered to the Saints,” or “the Faith of our Fathers,” or “The Christian Faith.” That kind of faith is eternal and, while undergoing clarifications and new applications in changed times, essentially unvarying in its core.

No, what is at issue is our faith. When our own faith is really just a collection of recycled bits and pieces of other people’s faith, then we get into difficulty and some real danger. Our faith is to be forged in our own wrestlings, our own struggles, our own response to the call of the One God who is made known in The Faith found in the Holy Gospel.

It is in today’s Gospel reading that this becomes extremely clear. Jesus, in the midst of His preaching, teaching, and healing tour, suddenly turns to those disciples closest to Him and requires that they answer this question: “Who do you say that I am?” They have already responded to His question about the matter of opinion: “who do others say I am?” They have reported what they heard. But now it is time to move from opinion to personal experience. And for a time, they are silent. This silence is a good thing and should teach us much. When the words we use and the attitudes we hold in faith are only the scraps of others’ experience, not bought at any personal price or by our own labors, that faith is cheap, flimsy, and likely to snap when most needed. Such a faith is unworthy of God and should not be spoken. It is better in such cases to remain silent, even in the face of Christ.

But St. Peter could speak. For he had done more than form opinions or collect insights. He had experiences which formed an indelible impression, unique to himself and yet universal in truth and significance. His faith, though we know it to have been imperfect, impetuous, and fragile, was real. It was his faith; not another’s. Out of that personal faith he could speak the glorious, true, eternal words: “You are the Messiah.” For this he is uniquely blessed and honored.

Yet in so saying, St. Peter did not cease to be like us. Almost in the next breath, he attempted to dissuade Jesus from His mission, His faith, if you like. He sought to recycle others’ ideas about what the Messiah “must do” on Jesus; for doing this, Peter is likened by Jesus to Satan, that master-recycler of lies. It is a painful but essential moment in the Gospel story.

To make this perfectly clear, Jesus tells all those who are present in the gathered crowd (how humiliating to the disciples!) what following Him means. It is to take up our cross and go on an adventure into uncharted territory. No pride of being a “cradle Episcopalian,” no recycled faith or credentials (“I’ve been a member of this parish for years” or “I pledge generously” or “I’m ordained”) here: only the raw experience of day-by-day, step-by-step faith. We in the Church sometimes shy away from this, pretending that we will be entitled to heaven by recycling someone else’s faith, someone else’s struggles; but today we are told once again that this is not so. We are granted the opportunity for the Kingdom of God by receiving the gift of the saving Faith of Christ through His victorious struggle on the Cross, but we still must answer the question Jesus asks us today and every day: “By your words, by your priorities, by your choices, by your actions – who do you say I am?” Amen.

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Shattered Body of Christ

From all false doctrine, heresy, and schism; from hardness of heart, and contempt of thy Word and commandment, Good Lord, deliver us.

This petition for deliverance in the Litany addresses the brokenness of the Church, with its consequences for its witness to the world and the lives of individual believers.

While it is Christ’s mystical Body, it remains a vulnerable, physical body on earth, just as Christ’s earthly body was vulnerable in his Passion and Crucifixion. Precious, but vulnerable. But to what form of illness is the Church vulnerable in its physical life today? The petition examines this in some detail.

False doctrine, like an inviting but ultimately misleading off-ramp from a freeway, takes us far from “the Way, the Truth, and the Life,” making us prisoners of a skewed or half-truth rather than the fullness of the Catholic Faith. We need to take stock of wherever false doctrine is being preached, taught, or received in the Church. We are called to repent of it and to flee from it.

Heresy almost always takes some part of the wholeness of Christian faith and amplifies it far beyond its proper place. Often, heresies result when people choose one side of an antimony (a pair of seeming opposites) which must be held together in order to enter into the fullness of belief (e.g. that Christ Jesus was “fully divine” and “fully human,” or that humanity is made in the image of God while at the same time fallen and distorted through sin). All of us have a “preferred heresy,” one we tend to gravitate towards. We should be very attentive to this, being watchful for those conditions and attitudes which invite us to trade in the Gospel in its wholeness for some diminished, partial caricature. Very often, people choose heresies because they seem easier than the paradoxical and challenging nature of true Christianity. We need to remember, though, that nowhere does Christ tell us the way of discipleship should be easy – in fact, he tells us quite the opposite. The more we gravitate towards a religion of comfort, the more likely we are choosing a heretical version of the genuine article.

Perhaps one of the most unspoken wrongs in Christianity is schism. This breaking of the natural and essential unity of the Faith into fragments is easily the most “heretical” witness to the world we make. Like a shattered mirror, contemporary Christianity reflects Christ to the world in a broken, partial, and often confused manner.

If Christians come to take schism for granted – almost as if it were no “big deal” – they show how little they understand the perspective of the unchurched, and how little they care for the expressed will of Our Lord for us. When Christianity looks like the rest of the world (divided, bickering, hateful, &c.) no amount of verbiage or appeals to “relevance” will overcome this basic failing. The unity of the Holy Trinity is the hallmark of the Kingdom of God, and the Church must pray for deliverance from the schisms marking it today if we are to reclaim our proper witness to the Gospel.

The petition continues with a wise awareness of what illness in the Body of the Church translates to in the lives of individual Christians: the bitter hardness of heart (often after becoming partisans in church battles of various types) and contempt for God’s Word and commandments. When we fail as a body to live up to the pattern set for us by Christ (or, worse, institutionalize this failure as somehow “normal”), we betray the work of the Holy Spirit in us, and there are painful consequences for parishes, denominations, and whole communions as a result. Whenever we offer the Litany, we are reminded of this, and bidden to question the condition of our own hearts, and the ways in which we have grown lax, loose, or downright contemptuous of God’s word and commandments to us – as communities of faith, yes, but also as individuals: for, we cannot ask of others what we will not observe ourselves.

A Short Sermon on the Golden Rule

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh

"Do to one another what you wish others to do to you."

Sunday 15th October 2000

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

The Gospel is infinitely simple if we receive it in simplicity. Our main problem lies in the fact that we look for theological depth in it instead of looking at the directness of the speech of God, who is simplicity itself, wholeness, and who addresses us as friends, not even as disciples, but as friends; because He Himself said, on His way to Jerusalem, 'I no longer call you slaves, but I call you friends, because all that I have to say I have shared with you.'

And so let us receive the words which we have heard today with the directness with which they were spoken by Christ: 'Do to one another what you wish others to do to you.'

It's something which we have seen repeated all the time; but is it the way in which we live? We want from people around us understanding, patience, compassion, support, friendship and all the simplicity of this world. We don't expect from us heroic deeds, because we are not in heroic times and situations. But that is what we expect to receive. And if we ask ourselves: what do we do about the people who surround us, can we say that we are fulfilling this simple and direct commandment, this advice of Christ in which He says: 'If you do these things you will be truly human'?

Let us reflect on that, because we think very often of things great, of things heroic, and when we think these great thoughts we must find the simplest things that we could do. When we read in the Gospel that we should give our lives for one another, we think that we can't do it, because there is no attempt at an attack on the life of our neighbour, certainly of our closest. And yet to give one's life means to devote one's life, to devote all one's energy, all one's understanding, all the patience, all the concern, all the sympathy, to all those who surround us. To do, in other words, as Christ put it, to others what we wish that others do to us.

Let us reflect on this very, very simple commandment, and see that we bring it at every moment; because we expect everything, and we give so little. We give indeed to those who are dear to us, naturally dear, but even they must put up, so often, with our lack of understanding and patience and compassion. Let us reflect on these simple and direct words of Christ and stand in judgement before them; ask ourselves how can I stand before Christ when He will say to me, 'You have heard these words, you have understood them, you have repeated them' - indeed, for us priests - 'you have preached them. And what have you done?' And how sorry it will be to look at Christ and say, 'I have claimed to be your disciple but in fact I have done nothing of what you have wished me to do to save other people from misery, from loneliness, from evil'. Amen.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

A Prayer at Day's End

Into thy hands, O Father and Lord, we commend our souls and bodies, our parents and our homes, friends, neighbours and kindred, our benefactors and brethren departed, all folk rightly believing and all who need thy pity and protection. 
Light us with thy holy grace
and suffer us never to be separated from thee, O Lord in Trinity, God everlasting. Amen.

St. Edmund of Abingdon (1170-1240)

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Nativity of the Virgin

Almighty and everlasting God, who by the overshadowing of the Holy Ghost didst prepare the body and soul of the Virgin-Mother Mary to be a dwelling-place for thy Son; Grant that we who rejoice with her in Jesus may ourselves be kept unspotted from the world, and made a pure temple for his dwelling, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the same Spirit, now and evermore. Amen.

Though not a Scriptural feast or one found in our Prayer Book, today’s commemoration of the birth of the mother of Our Lord recounts an obviously historical event and has a long history in the Church (East and West). It forms part of a cycle of feasts attested to by ancient authorities, but not found in the Bible (and thus, for Anglicans, not "required teaching," however there is nothing in these ancient commemorations that is counter to the New Testament's teaching).

The above Collect for this day focuses on the purity of Mary, building on the ancient belief that she was in some way purified by the Holy Spirit of all Original/Ancestral Sin. This understanding allowed God the Son to take flesh without contact with human sin.

[Interestingly, this belief was widely held in Classical Anglicanism, without the least sense that it was overtly “Roman” in character; see Bishop Pearson’s 17th century commentary on the Apostles’ Creed.] The popularization of this particular feast in the Medieval period was greatly assisted by one St. Fulbert of Chartres; I’ve sometime wondered if my family came from a common background with this 11th century teacher, preacher, and reformer.

What strikes me most about this feast, though, is the focus on God’s loving, caring preparation. Mary is prepared long before the fact to receive the Christ-child – yet she is free to say “no” to her calling at each step. God prepares us for our calling through gifts of skill and capacity, yet we are free at each moment to reject that calling. What freedom we are given! What degree of thoughtful preparation God takes with us! What risks our loving God runs with each one of us!

I am also reminded by this feast that each of us, like Our Lady, is a temple called to receive the Lord. While she is uniquely blessed in how that vocation was lived out, we are each of us no less called to “bear” Christ into the world in our own way. We are once again recalled to the fact that our minds, our bodies, our wills are to be holy places of worship and encounter, where (as Psalm 29 puts it) all is crying in unison "Glory!"

Once more, the Church’s memory recalls us to the eternal Now of God’s presence and our discipleship.

Friday, September 4, 2009

For Fridays: An Obsecration before the Crucifix

Lord, by this sweet and saving Sign,

Defend us from our foes and thine.

Jesus, by thy wounded feet,

Direct our paths aright:

Jesu, by thy nailed hands,

Move ours to deeds of love:

Jesu, by thy pierced side,

Cleanse our desires:

Jesu, by thy crown of thorns,

Annihilate our pride:

Jesu, by thy parched lips,

Curb our cruel speech:

Jesuby by thy closing eyes,

Look on our sin no more:

Jesu, by thy broken heart,

Knit ours to thee.

And by this sweet and saving Sign,

Lord, draw us to our peace and thine.

- Richard Crashaw, and others.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Knot

Bright Queen of Heaven! God's Virgin Spouse
The glad world's blessed Maid!
Whose beauty tied life to thy house,
And brought us saving aid.
Thou art the true Love's-knot; by thee
God is made our ally;
And man's inferior essence He
With His did dignify.
For coalescent by that band
We are His body grown,
Nourish'd with favours from His hand
Whom for our Head we own.
And such a knot, what arm dares loose.
What life, what death can sever?
Which us in Him, and Him in us,
United keeps for ever.
-- Henry Vaughan

Our Share in These Things

It is time we acknowledge that Christians themselves bear a large share of the responsibility for this tragedy of freedom, that it is not accidental that the roots of this tragedy stretch out into that world and that culture that not very long ago at all called itself Christian. On the one hand, the unheard of, impossible good news of freedom – the call, “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore” (Gal. 5:1) – came into the world with and only with Christianity. It is precisely Christianity, and only it, which has forever spoiled human consciousness with this unquenchable thirst. But on the other hand, who, if not Christians themselves, have substituted, or one can even say, handed down this good news while reducing it – for the world, for “those outside” – to facile, “scientific” and “objective” knowledge about God, to a knowledge from without that cannot define God other than in categories of power, authority, necessity, and law. Precisely from here stems the terrible pathos of theomachy [a war or struggle against God], inherent in all ideologies that promise freedom to mankind. And here there is no misunderstanding, for if God is what “knowledge about God” self-assuredly affirms about him, then man is a slave, in spite of all the stipulations and elucidations suggested in smooth apologetics and theodicy. And then, for the sake of freedom, it is necessary that God not exist, that he be killed, and through this murder of God contemporary man, deifying himself, advances to his lowest depths.

-- from The Eucharist by Alexander Schmemann

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

A Question of Rights

The Rule of St. Benedict is imbued with an extraordinary force for normalizing the relations between God and man, and between man and his fellow. It has a rare wholesomeness and capacity for giving man an equilibrium both psychic and physical by re-establishing in him right concepts and by ordering an hierarchy of value in him. There is in it no neurotic affirmation of the rights of man. Where God occupies his true place, everything sorts itself out in the best way for man. The rights of man are assured where the rights of God are respected.

- from Serving God First, by Dom Sighard Kleiner

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Thoughts on True Prayer

Anyone who prays should pray having his heart in touch with his mouth and his mind with his lips. If, however, he bows down and stretches out his hands in prayer while his heart is daydreaming somewhere else, then he is like the cedars which storms bend down and flatten out. Or if his lips are eagerly murmuring but his mind is somewhere [else], then this resembles the case of doors being buffeted by the winds, which no one can open or shut.

For anyone who stands in prayer a discerning compassion is required. Tears of compunction are also beneficial. He also requires a recollected mind. If he has any grudge against any of his fellows, he should wash this away from his heart. And he should pray in silence, his lips murmuring with awareness. And when he puts the seal on his prayer, let him stop and remain still in silence. He should not occupy himself with empty talk or with unedifying chatter; rather, he should remain in silence and awareness. Then his prayer will be fully accepted by him who receives prayers and pure thoughts.

Philoxenus of Mabbug (obit. 523 AD)

Strength in Fragility

From all evil and wickedness; from sin; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; and from everlasting damnation, Good Lord, deliver us.

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy; from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity, Good Lord, deliver us.

From all inordinate and sinful affections; and from all the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil, Good Lord, deliver us.

In these three petitions we bring before God the vulnerabilities, flaws, and delusions which beset all humanity. Why this? How can it be “good psychology” or “beneficial self-esteem” to do this? It is because the strength we seek can only be found by a clear understanding of our own fragility.

The first petition cries out to God that we are utterly beset by brokenness. Any honest, clear-eyed assessment of the world will attest to this fact. We had best admit this; if it were not so, why would be appealing to God on behalf of a suffering world in the first place? This brokenness, this illusory search for life apart from God, has a name: sin. It is not just an impersonal “concept.” It is a highly personal fact, addressed to each one of us by our ancient foe: the devil. Evil’s desire is for our final “undoing,” our complete rejection of relationship with the Triune God. The ultimate cost of yielding to the false logic of sin is an everlasting aloneness.

The second petition moves from the grand scale to the theatre of the human heart. In our search for life apart of God, we have become blind of heart: alienated from the illumination coming from God alone, we grope in the darkness of our own aloneness. Having lost full union with the God who gives us dignity and value, we have substituted pride and vainglory, searching for identity and purpose by exerting power and control over others. Because we are not whole and honest with the God who formed us, we have split the world in two – the world of “being seen” and the “personal life” where we live and do as we please, giving rise to hypocrisy. With these distortions in our heart, we are constantly tempted to act out of their deadly fruit: envy, hatred, malice, and want of charity. Our Lenten pilgrimage each year deepens our recognition of this “other law” within us, a law we must acknowledge in order to fight against in the power of God revealed at Easter.

The third petition “gets down to cases,” as we might say. We confess to the specific ways in which sin operates on the personal level. In a society obsessed by comfort and license, we recall the inordinate and sinful affections we place higher than “the kingdom of God and its righteousness,” and by which we allow the deceits of the world, the flesh, and the devil to go unchallenged as our personal (if unacknowledged) “logic.” Thus, the tragic dimension of our fallen reasoning, desires, and expectations are laid honestly before our own eyes and before our God. But why do we do this here in the Litany?

The reason is difficult for the secular – or the secularized Christian – mind to comprehend, distorted as it has become by confusing self-esteem with self-awareness. The Christian confesses his or her fragility precisely because it leads to renewed trust and strength in God. Without this we will likely only further the wrong done by those before us. By renouncing Satan’s ancient lie – that by severing our life in God we can become “gods” – and embracing the gift of True Life which comes from God alone through salvation in Christ, we are freed to do the true work of discipleship. Only then, with humility (in the sense of knowing and living in reality), may we proceed in prayer aware of our true place, our proper and indeed essential role of sharing in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation and intercession. It is when we come to understand, with St. Paul, that we are "treasures in clay vessels" that God's strength may be "perfected in human weakness."

(Photo: Ad Meskens)