Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Lenten Embertide: Praying for the Church's Ministry

The quarterly Embertides are short periods of prayer for the Church's ministry. They have always had both the character of intercession and penitence. This is doubly appropriate in an era when so much of the Church's public witness seems clouded by scandal, dissension, and veniality. Below is a litany (adapted from the Book of Common Prayer's Litany at Ordinations) and additional prayers for either public or personal use. 

The importance of holding the ministry (lay and ordained) of the Church in prayer is difficult to overestimate. When we pray for ministry, we are put in mind of how God has entrusted so much to us as frail vessels, and how that ministry may only be exercised authentically in a spirit of humility and prayerfulness.

The Embertides also make clear that the clergy, while not "professional Christians" forming a superior caste in the Church, are icons of Christ in a particular way--both for the Faithful and for non-believers. It is important that this fact not be minimized or trivialized, as the consequences of a slovenly opinion of Holy Orders is a culture of decadence and decline in the Church.

Finally, the Ember Days point out that the Church is a Body, not merely an institution. It has a deeply interdependent life of mutuality and love derived from the Holy Trinity. Its very existence depends upon its ongoing communion with God the Trinity. When we allow institutional language, "process," and "fixes" to be substituted for the life and language of Church as the Mystical Body of Christ, we have nothing to say to a secular culture utterly weary of "execu-speak" and corporate gimmickry. 

An Embertide Litany

For use on Ember Days or other occasions for the Prayers of the People at the Eucharist, following the Collects in the Daily Office, or as a separate devotion.

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 Justin, Archbishop of Canterbury, Katharine, our Presiding Bishop, N., our Diocesan 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 all preparing for ordination in your Church,
we pray to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear our prayer.

That they 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 they may 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,(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 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

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.

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.

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.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Cross of Love, Cross of Victory

What follows is a portion of a sermon by St. Leo the Great, Bishop of Rome (obit. 461; commemorated 10 November) on the Lord's Passion. It is a powerful reminder that for Early Christianity, the Cross was first and foremost a powerful sign of victory. On the Cross, Christ Jesus took a thing of shame and turned it into a means of victory over our enemy, obliterating all need for humans to sacrifice in order to "get right" with God.

As we enter into the fullness of the Lenten season, it is important to remember that our Lenten devotion is an opening of our hearts and minds to what God has already done for us, not fall into the trap of trying to please God by our efforts. 

When we allow Lent to be a season of acknowledging our absolutely poverty and need for God, we receive grace to embrace the totality of God's love for us in new ways, discarding arrogance and judgment in favor of being grateful recipients. Our lives, in short, become Eucharistic. This connects our daily life with the Holy Eucharist offered in the Liturgy, and through this, directly to the Cross and its eternal victory of Love.

Let this Lent be a season of total re-commitment to a faith that fills by emptying, that enriches by acknowledging our poverty.

Our understanding, which is enlightened by the Spirit of truth, should receive with purity and freedom of heart the glory of the cross as it shines in heaven and on earth. It should see with inner vision the meaning of the Lord’s words when he spoke of the imminence of his passion: The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.Afterward he said: Now my soul is troubled, and what am I to say? Father, save me from this hour. But it was for this that I came to this hour. Father, glorify your Son. When the voice of the Father came from heaven, saying, I have glorified him, and will glorify him again, Jesus said in reply to those around him: It was not for me that this voice spoke, but for you. Now is the judgment of the world, now will the prince of this world be cast out. And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself.

How marvellous the power of the cross; how great beyond all telling the glory of the passion: here is the judgement-seat of the Lord, the condemnation of the world, the supremacy of Christ crucified.

Lord, you drew all things to yourself so that the devotion of all peoples everywhere might celebrate, in a sacrament made perfect and visible, what was carried out in the one temple of Judea under obscure foreshadowings.

Now there is a more distinguished order of Levites, a greater dignity for the rank of elders, a more sacred anointing for the priesthood, because your cross is the source of all blessings, the cause of all graces. Through the cross the faithful receive strength from weakness, glory from dishonor, life from death.

The different sacrifices of animals are no more: the one offering of your body and blood is the fulfilment of all the different sacrificial offerings, for you are the true Lamb of God: you take away the sins of the world. In yourself you bring to perfection all mysteries, so that, as there is one sacrifice in place of all other sacrificial offerings, there is also one kingdom gathered from all peoples.

Dearly beloved, let us then acknowledge what Saint Paul, the teacher of the nations, acknowledged so exultantly: This is a saying worthy of trust, worthy of complete acceptance: Christ Jesus came into this world to save sinners.

God’s compassion for us is all the more wonderful because Christ died, not for the righteous or the holy but for the wicked and the sinful, and, though the divine nature could not be touched by the sting of death, he took to himself, through his birth as one of us, something he could offer on our behalf.

The power of his death once confronted our death. In the words of Hosea the prophet:Death, I shall be your death; grave, I shall swallow you up. By dying he submitted to the laws of the underworld; by rising again he destroyed them. He did away with the everlasting character of death so as to make death a thing of time, not of eternity. As all die in Adam, so all will be brought to life in Christ.
(Sermon 8 on Our Lord's Passion)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Lent: It is Never Too Late to Surrender to God

Perhaps one of the greatest struggles in my life as a Christian has to do with surrender. I can pretend that in some way I have already done it, but in truth I have not. I continue to try to live on some level an autonomous life, maintaining an existence referring to, but not surrendered to, God.

Though baptized into Christ's Body the Church, confirmed, married, and ordained, I find myself painfully aware in various moments how little I have trusted to God, how much I am dependent on myself, my wits, my efforts. In short, I am a poor object lesson in authentic discipleship.

But, Christ heartens me with many stories of people who, like me, resisted the message in part and then finally came to accept it. What inspires me the most is that Christ seems to believe it is never too late to surrender to God in this life. The repentant thief, on the very threshold of death, was found worthy. Don't be afraid, even if it seems late in the day. This isn't a race: it is an invitation!

Being a Christian was never meant to be easy. The myth that it might be easy to follow Christ was peddled for a long time in our country, but that myth is quickly unravelling in our increasingly secular and spiritually-hostile environment. Living a Christianity of convenience--never truly an honest thing--is now becoming impossible. One either is willing to enter into the mystery of Salvation, or one isn't.

Lent is an annual opportunity to be utterly honest about this. We, who bear the name "Christian," cannot avoid the fact that to follow this Jesus means taking up our own cross, just as he promised. That cross is a sign of complete surrender to God: where God calls us, we must go. Ultimately, that means a call to the God's Kingdom. But it also means traversing some challenging territory on the way there.

Taking up that cross means things like being willing to be healed of our personal damage, having an openness to other people because Christ is found in and through them, setting others free by forgiving them, and being able to speak the Truth in Love rather than adapt one's self to the spirit of the age or to make things easier (though less truthful). Lent shows us in a mirror of spiritual honesty where we are running from the cross in our lives.

Surrender remains, for me, a place of great growth. I love God, but that love remains too conditional to be fully operational. It is a matter of deep personal sorrow for me, but even here Christ encounters me not with bitterness, but with hope. He holds out to me the promise of His love for all...even those who, like Peter, betrayed Him out of a love still imperfect and tentative.

And this is the message I desire to share with all of you today on this First Sunday in Lent. However little you have surrendered to God before, however halting your discipleship or imperfect your response, come to Him and confess it all to Him in humility and love.

It is this love, this humility, which is the key. Our surrender begins when we turn to Christ. He does the rest...but turn to Him we must, deeply and simply. Do not hide anything. Hand it all over; empty the pockets and turn them out; set down all the burdens you carry on your back, in your mind, or upon your heart. He welcomes all because He understands all personally, intimately--for He created us all and desires our complete healing and reconciliation.

As we walk with Christ to Holy Week and there see Him go where we cannot, we are given the opportunity to surrender all God once more so that we may receive our cross to carry with gratitude and thanksgiving, in His strength and upheld in Divine Love.

Pray for me, that I may do so; and I shall for you, as well. Together, let us advance in this sacred knowledge...the truest form of theology.

And remember, it is never too late.

A Holy Lent to all.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

On the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord in the Temple

Today is one of the Feasts of Our Lord, a day of rejoicing that Christ has come into the Temple to be presented, in accordance with the Law of Moses, to His Father. The story is found in Luke 2: 22-40.

This is a day of extraordinary beauty. In it is fulfilled the yearning of an entire people…though secretly, quietly, gently. The ancient Temple has its true purpose revealed and completed: the presence of God in this Holy Place is now complete, and the hostility between humanity and God is being overcome by God's own initiative

Mary and Joseph witness in awe and wonder the meaning of this moment, treasuring it in their hearts as will all future disciples of Christ. A prophesy of struggle and suffering for Mary is pronounced, something true for her in a unique way, but also a fact for anyone who follows Christ and the Gospel Way authentically.

Yet, there is more. Aged Simeon holds the child who is his Messiah in his own arms, bringing age, infancy, and eternity together. Anna—another senior deeply alive to God and central to the story—so rejoices at the Messiah’s coming that all around her take note of her hope and delight. It is a day marked by joy, a joy much like that of the Day of Resurrection which it prefigures.

Each person who confesses Christ is fundamentally alive in this joy. It is a mark of true discipleship. Young and old, insightful and simple, mystical and practical: we all share in the light of Christ’s presence. That presence transforms and fulfills us in ways we cannot comprehend or imagine. It reaches through us into the lives and needs of others. “The light has come into the world, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

For centuries, it has been the custom of those celebrating this feast to bear small lamps or candles to recall this light of Christ come into the world—and especially the Holy Spirit given to us (much like Simeon). At Holy Baptism, a candle is presented to the newly-baptized (or a sponsor) to remind all present that this light is conferred and must be cherished.

Do we consciously bear Christ’s Light? Do we honor it? Do we see it as the one true gift—quite apart from our opinions, agendas, experiences, and goals—we have to give? Let us pray that this is so for us. To substitute something else for this light is to turn our back on the Savior, and to close the door on the mystery and power of the events celebrated on this beautiful day.

Rejoice with the Blessed Virgin, with St. Joseph, with aged Anna and Simeon on this day…and share the light given to you long after the candle you bear is extinguished!

A reading from a sermon by Sophronius, Patriarch of Jerusalem (7th Century)

Our lighted candles are a sign of the divine splendor of the one who comes to expel the dark shadows of evil and to make the whole universe radiant with the brilliance of his eternal light. Our candles also show how bright our souls should be when we go to meet Christ.

The Mother of God, the most pure Virgin, carried the true light in her arms and brought him to those who lay in darkness. We too should carry a light for all to see and reflect the radiance of the true light as we hasten to meet him.

The light has come and has shone upon a world enveloped in shadows; the Dayspring from on high has visited us and given light to those who lived in darkness. This, then, is our feast, and we join in procession with lighted candles to reveal the light that has shone upon us and the glory that is yet to come to us through him. So let us hasten all together to meet our God.

The true light has come, the light that enlightens every man who is born into this world. Let all of us, my brethren, be enlightened and made radiant by this light. Let all of us share in its splendor, and be so filled with it that no one remains in the darkness. Let us be shining ourselves as we go together to meet and to receive with the aged Simeon the light whose brilliance is eternal. Rejoicing with Simeon, let us sing a hymn of thanksgiving to God, the Father of the light, who sent the true light to dispel the darkness and to give us all a share in his splendor.

Through Simeon’s eyes we too have seen the salvation of God which he prepared for all the nations and revealed as the glory of the new Israel, which is ourselves. As Simeon was released from the bonds of this life when he had seen Christ, so we too were at once freed from our old state of sinfulness.

By faith we too embraced Christ, the salvation of God the Father, as he came to us from Bethlehem. Gentiles before, we have now become the people of God. Our eyes have seen God incarnate, and because we have seen him present among us and have mentally received him into our arms, we are called the new Israel. Never shall we forget this presence; every year we keep a feast in his honor.

Collect for the Feast of the Presentation

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly pray that, as your only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented to you with pure and clean hearts by Jesus Christ our Lord; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.