Monthly Archives: January 2011

Stump the Priest!

So, today in Church, Fr. David announced that I have a continuous “Stump the Priest” page going on my blog.  I thought to myself, “I probably ought to go ahead and put something like that up since the congregation will be looking for it now.”  If you have a good question, leave it below in the comments.  I don’t promise I will answer it; if I do answer it, it won’t be right away, but I will get to it pretty soon.   February is a slow month on the liturgical calendar, so there is a lean weak or two where I was wondering what I was going to say.  Leave your question in the comments and I’ll see what I can do!

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The Feast of Saint Thomas Aquinas

Today we commemorate the life and ministry of Saint Thomas Aquinas.  One could—and many have—filled whole libraries with analyses, commentaries, and reviews of the works the Angelic Doctor, whose own works alone go a long way towards starting a library.   A few weeks ago I flippantly declared that “I don’t believe in theology.”  You would have thought I disowned Christ.  Though a priest, I despise the work of “doing” theology.  Systematics is not my bag.  I can talk historical theology (the study of what people believed at a certain time), church history, Biblical studies, and the like, but do not ask me to get theological.  I don’t do it. 

So it would make sense that I have no intent at all to comment on Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica (his magnum opus and humbly named Summary of All Theology).  Instead, I prefer to focus on the good doctor’s ardent and passionate devotion to Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  Aside from being one of the greatest theological minds of the last half a millennia (so I’ve been told), St. Thomas Aquinas composed an entire Mass setting for the Feast of Corpus Christi.  That is the day on which the Church gives thanks for the Real Presence of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist.  To go along with this service, the saint composed a set of hymns which I find to be some of the most beautiful hymns ever written.  I choose to focus on these this day.

Adoro Te Devote was a hymn written for the feast.  One translation of the Latin renders the lyrics this way:

Humbly I adore thee, Verity unseen,
Who thy glory hiddest ‘neath these shadows mean;
Lo, to thee surrendered, my whole heart is bowed,
Tranced as it beholds thee, shrined within the cloud.

Taste and touch and vision to discern thee fail;
Faith, that comes by hearing, pierces through the veil.
I believe whate’er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.

O memorial wondrous of the Lord’s own death;
Living Bread that givest all thy creatures breath,
Grant my spirit ever by thy life may live,
To my taste thy sweetness never-failing give.

Jesus, whom now hidden, I by faith behold,
What my soul doth long for, that thy word foretold:
Face to face thy splendor, I at last shall see,
In the glorious vision, blessed Lord, of thee.

The second hymn which I will focus on today is the Tantum Ergo.  This hymn is actually the last two verses of a much longer hymn, Pange Lingua Gloriosi Corporis Mysterium. The words are used in various services of Eucharistic Adoration including the Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  The lyrics (in one translation) are as follows:

Therefore we before him bending,
This great sacrament revere;
Types and shadows have their ending,
For the newer rite is here;
Faith, our outward sense befriending,
Makes our inward vision clear.

Glory let us give and blessing
To the Father and the Son,
Honor, thanks, and praise addressing,
While eternal ages run;
Ever to His love confessing
Who from Both with Both is One. Amen.

Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with the singular learning and holiness of your servant Thomas Aquinas; enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars, and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. 

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Feast of Saints Timothy and Titus

Today is the day on which the Church commemorates the lives of Saints Timothy and Titus.  There are a limited number of Biblical figures who have “Major Feasts” dedicated to them.  They include all of the Apostles and Evangelists, Saint Stephen, Saint Joseph, Saint Michael, Saint James, and the Holy Innocents.  Unfortunately, at least for them, the companions of Saint Paul do not rank their own Major Feast; we lump the two of them together and call it a Lesser Feast. 

Saint Timothy is better attested than his companion.  We know that Saint Paul “discovered” Timothy on his visit to Lystra during what we refer to as “the Second Missionary Journey.”  Timothy was himself and believer and the son and grandson of devout Christian women.  Though his father was a Greek, his mother was a Jew.  Since one’s “Jewishness” was passed down from the mother, this made Timothy a Jew.  As such, this young man had to be circumcised before he could begin ministering to Jews.  Many youths on fire for the Lord today cry out and say, “I’ll do anything for You, Lord!” I wonder how many young men would go on missions trips if they had to go through a circumcision first!  We know also that Timothy was present with Saint Paul in Corinth and Ephesus, that he bore the letter known as I Corinthians to the Church located there on behalf of Saint Paul and that he ministered as one of Saint Paul’s companions to the Churches located around the Aegean Sea.  Finally, it is believed that, on his last trip through Ephesus, Saint Paul laid hands on Timothy and commissioned and ordained him to be the first bishop of Ephesus.  Given the prominence of that city and his intimate connection to the Apostle, Timothy would have likely been regarded as an archbishop in fairly short order. 

Towards the end of his first epistle, Saint Paul instructs his disciple:

“Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you.” (I Timothy 4:12-16)

Saint Titus, on the other hand, is a bit harder to pin down.  Apparently, Titus was with Saint Paul prior to the Council of Jerusalem and second missionary journey.  In Galatians 2, Saint Paul mentions that “not even Titus who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised.” (verse 3)  He is not mentioned in the Book of Acts (I don’t think Saint Luke liked him.  I have the same theory about Sosthenes.) but figures prominently in II Corinthians.  In the first chapter of The Epistle to Titus, Saint Paul admits, “I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you” (verse 5).  Appointing “elders” (translated from the Greek presbuteros from which we get “priests”) is the job of a bishop and so it is believed that Saint Titus was the first bishop on the island of Crete.  Saint Paul even makes a comical remark about the Cretans saying, “One of them, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’” (1:12)  It is an old logic puzzle: if a Cretan says “all Cretans are always liars,” then how can he be believed? 

My intention today is not to provide a meditative thought for the day.  Rather, I want to show that we see the beginnings of Apostolic Succession even in the later books of the Bible itself.  With our belief in Apostolic Succession, we say that God sent Jesus, who commissioned the Apostles, who commissioned the Disciples, who commissioned the first bishops in the Church, but we have this feeling that there is no Biblical record to support this belief.  There is plenty of extra-Biblical support, but no Biblical evidence.  This is not the case.  Our Lord appeared to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts of the Apostles 9); we know that in Antioch, prior to the First Missionary Journey, the elders “laid hands on” Saints Paul and Barnabbas (ordained them).  Further, we know that Saint Timothy had a “gift” that was given to him “with the laying on of hands” and that Saint Titus was commanded by Saint Paul to “appoint elders in every city.”  This is the succession of the Apostles that we talk about.  It is not just an historical idea put forth by a Roman bishop; it is a Biblical concept put forward by the Lord.  For whatever it is worth,  around the end of the first century, when Saint Timothy was martyred for the faith, he was succeeded as bishop by a man named Onesimus.   It is believed that was the same runaway slave that Saint Paul sent back to his master carrying The Epistle to Philemon.

Just and merciful God, in every generation you raise up prophets, teachers and witnesses to summon the world to honor and praise your holy Name; We thank you for sending Timothy and Titus, whose gifts built up your Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. Grant that we too may be living stones built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ our Savior; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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The Conversion of Saint Paul

Ananias Restores the Sight of Saint Paul by Pietro de Cortana

Today is the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul.  It is the day on which we commemorate and celebrate Our Lord’s miraculous intervention in the life of a man consumed by pride, legalism, and hatred, so that he might become one of the world’s most powerful preachers of humility, grace, and love.  The Holy Scriptures are very clear about who Saul of Tarsus was prior to his conversion.  In his Epistle to the Galatians, Saint Paul recounts, “For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it.  And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” (1:13-14)  Likewise, in the Acts of the Apostle, Saint Paul testifies, “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.  This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them.  And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” (26:9-11)

 We know that Saint Paul was on one such trip to hunt down, ferret out, persecute and destroy Christians in Damascus, when he had a Divine encounter with the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  We know that his life was never the same after that encounter.  We know that those who ministered to him were so shocked by his conversion that they were afraid it was a ruse intended to catch believers. 

I can relate to Saint Paul.  Prior to my own conversion, I was what Friedrich Schleiermacher would have called one of the “Cultured Despisers,” though I was not nearly as cultured or intelligent as I would have thought.  I argued with, mocked, and maligned the Christians who openly professed their faith, not because I had a better way (had I been honest with myself at the time, I would have known I was lost), but because of something inside of me.  Obviously, that was quite a long time ago and things have changed quite a bit, thanks be to God.

The Conversion of Saint Paul reminds us that, no matter how much we have maligned and despised those around us who followed after Jesus, there is still hope for us and a place in the Kingdom of God.  I may have mocked and maligned, but I doubt I really rocked anyone’s faith, and I certainly never murdered anyone.  I never even held anyone’s coat while others did so, as we see that Saint Paul did at the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.  (Acts of the Apostles 7:57-60) 

There is hope for all of us.  This week I heard of a woman who lived and is living out an experience like that of Saint Paul’s today.  Abby Johnson worked for eight years for the single largest provider of abortions in America—Planned Parenthood.  She was even employee of the year—that is nationwide not just at her local clinic!  There is no way of telling just how many children went helplessly and defenselessly to their death while Abby “held their coats.”  She may not have thrown the stone, but one day she was asked to hold the ultra-sound probe.  One of the new doctors in the clinic chose to do an ultra-sound guided abortion and needed Abby to hold the probe.  She did not see a lump of tissue or a ball of cells or a zygote or a fetus or anything else the pro-choice marketers have tried to suggest they deal with.  She saw a perfectly healthy baby, not at all unlike the baby she had seen on her own ultra-sound a few months prior. 

She saw that perfectly healthy baby die.  She saw her be dismembered and sucked out through a hose while the abortionist made a joke.

That changed her life. 

Since then, Abby has become involved with the Pro-Life movement.  She is a public speaker who works with the Forty Days for Life campaigns and she has recently written a book detailing her story.  Unplanned: The Dramatic True Story of a Former Planned Parenthood Leader’s Eye-Opening Journey across the Life Line is now available at book retailers across the country and on-line at Amazon.com.  You can preview the book’s first chapter by following this link.

I think Saint Paul would be proud.

O God, who by the preaching of your apostle Paul have caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we pray, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may show ourselves thankful to you by following his holy teaching; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

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Legal But Immoral

Today is the thirty-seventh anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize abortion in America.  Right now, Christians from all over America are converging on Washington, D.C., in order to gather together and protest the beginning of what some have called “The American Holocaust.”  To commemorate the day, I post this article by Bishop David Epps, the bishop of the Mid-South Diocese of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  The article, along with some interestingly offensive comments may be found at The Citizen.

Two weeks ago, six people were killed and 14 wounded in what has been called the “Tucson Tragedy.”

One year ago, 200,000 people were killed and 1.5 million remain homeless as a result of a devastating earthquake in the nation of Haiti.

One decade ago, some 3,000 people were killed in Pennsylvania, New York, and Washington, D. C. on Sept. 11.

One generation ago, in January of 1973, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the killing of children in the womb was legal. Since that time, in the United States alone, the death toll is 52,000,000 boys and girls who were destroyed without ever having seen the light of day.

We often make the grave error of believing that if something is legal, then it must be moral and right. At one time in this nation it was legal for one human being to own another. Slavery was legal and many believed it to be right. No one believes this was moral and right today. It may have been legal but it was immoral.

At one time in this nation, husbands could beat, mistreat, and rape their wives without fear of legal consequences. No one believes this was moral and right today. It may have been legal but it was immoral.

At one time in this nation, children could be exploited and abused almost without restriction. In fact, if one desired to protect children, laws protecting the abuse of animals had to be invoked because there were no such laws protecting children. No one believes this was moral and right today. It may have been legal but it was immoral.

There is nothing moral or right about the destruction of any innocent life, but multiply this by 52 million and the results are horrific beyond comprehension.

Americans have killed nearly six times more unborn children than Hitler and the Nazis killed Jews during World War II.

The United States, since the first shots of the revolution were fired, has been involved in 30 wars, including the various Indian wars, the Boxer Rebellion, the Barbary Wars, as well as more modern conflicts in Somalia, Bosnia, El Salvador, and the major wars of which we are all familiar.
The total number of U.S. military personnel killed during the entire history of the United States from 1775 through 2010 is 1,317,588.

Tragic as that is, it pales in comparison to the number of American pre-born intentional deaths. There have been approximately 50 times more children killed since 1973 than the number of soldiers killed during the entire history of the Republic.

But even that is not the full story. I was born in 1951. From me came three children. From them were born 11 more children, my grandchildren. That means that in three generations there have been produced, so far, 15 people.

Had I been aborted, it would have meant, not just one death, but the elimination of 15 people who are alive today.

If only 10 people are given to a family in three generations, that means that not just 52,000,000 lives have been ended but, rather, a staggering 520 million!

Over half a billion people do not or will not exist over the course of three generations, thanks to an act that is legal. But moral? Right? Not by a long shot.

In the days to come — at some point — I have a dream and a fervent hope that abortion will join slavery, wife rape, and child abuse on the trash heap of acts that used to be legal but were so morally wretched and ethically repugnant that society could no longer bear them.

Not everything legal is moral or right.

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The Confession of Saint Peter

Tuesday, January 18, is the Feast of the Confession of Saint Peter.  On this day we commemorate the event, depicted in all three synoptic Gospels, where St. Peter, upon being questioned by Our Lord, declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.”  (St. Matthew 16:16)  While the scene occurs in the Gospels according to Saints Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it is only in St. Matthew’s account where we see St. Peter particularly commended for this answer.  Our Lord says to the saint,

“Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” (St. Matthew 16:17-19)

We face the same pair of questions that St. Peter faced each and every day.  Every time we go out into a world that ever-increasingly more pagan and less Christian, we find ourselves facing people who have already decided who Jesus “really” is—or, in many of their minds, who he was.  There is a cohort of scholars, quite highly regarded in some circles, who refer to themselves as “The Jesus Seminar.”  These men and women have sought to reconstruct who Jesus “really was.”  Some say, “he was a failed apocalyptic prophet,” or he was “a magician,” or he was “a renegade rabbi,” “an exile from Qumran,” or so many others.  Sadly, it is only the minority opinion, whose adherents are scoffed at as backwards and superstitious, that Our Lord was who He says He was: God’s only Son who came redeem the world.  But we need not look to scholars for insights such as these.

All around us are non-believers, atheists, agnostics, neo-pagans, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews.  These are not people who have never heard the name of Jesus.  In America, who can really say they have never heard His name?  Maybe they have only heard of it as an expletive, but they have heard it!  All of these people have come to a conclusion about who He is.  He is a myth, a ghost story, a fable.  He is a construct of later religious authorities trying to control the population.  He was “a good moral teacher, but not the son of God.”  That one is particularly popular, though C. S. Lewis debunked it quite thoroughly.  All around us people have come to their own conclusion.

And each one of us is also faced with the question: “Who do you say that I am?”  Those of us who are Christian have made a choice to give our hearty “yes and amen” to St. Peter’s confession.  We believe that He is “the Christ [the Messiah], the Son of the Living God.”  Depending on our background, we may launch into “light from light, very God from very God, begotten not made…”  Like Saint Peter, we are blessed when we come to a place where we can make such a confession, yet we are not blessed by making; we are blessed to make the confession.

Jesus said, “Blessed are you… for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”  There is no amount of rationalizing that can push us over the threshold from non-belief into faith.  There is no un-refutable argument that overpowers all reason.  There is no experiment that rules out all disbelief.  There is no testimony that puts to rest all doubt.  Every one of us comes to a place where we have done everything that we can to come to terms with the reality or lack thereof in the Incarnation.  We all come to a place where we must move beyond what “flesh and blood” can discern and take that leap of faith.

We must keep in mind, however, that faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit and “no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.” (I Corinthians 12:3, 9)  The very act of belief in the Lord is a gift from Him, a blessing in and of itself.  That gift has been presented to all of us.  Every man, woman, and child in all of creation has been given, since the moment of the Incarnation, the opportunity to receive the free gift of redemption.  Jesus is that oasis and desert wilderness that is so good that it must be a mirage.  Thousands look at the shade and the water from a distance and refuse to draw near and drink because He seems “too good to be true.”  All of us who believe that Christ is Lord have picked up that free gift that was given to us and made it our own.  We have an obligation, not only to share the Gospel with non-believers, but also to pray that those around us who do not know who He is, will likewise have the grace to accept the free gift given once and for all.

This week also begins an octave (eight days) of prayer for Christian unity and concludes with the Feast of the Conversion of Saint Paul.  Pray for unity within the Church of Jesus Christ–may we all worship as one!  Look for the next post as updates around March for Life and on the Conversion of Saint Paul.

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The Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Baptism of Our Lord

I had hoped to post this yesterday.  Regrettably, by the time I recovered from my Sunday afternoon nap, my daughter was diligently working on a history essay and I thought it best to let her continue.  I may be important to note that, while the feast was technically yesterday, many CEC churches lack facilities and are unable to celebrate mid-week services.  As a result, many CEC parishes, including my own, observed Epiphany yesterday and will observe the Baptism of Our Lord on the coming Sunday.  For many, this message will be a day late and a dollar short; for some, I hope, it will be thought-provoking and provide some pleasing grist for next week’s mill.

This past Sunday the Church celebrates the baptism of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the River Jordan at the hands of Saint John the Baptist.  Liturgically speaking, the observance of this feast on the first Sunday after Epiphany is a very new phenomenon.  Historically, the Feast of the Epiphany commemorated three distinct events in the Gospels: the adoration of Our Lord by the Magi, the baptism of Our Lord, and the wedding at Cana.  Over time adoration of the Magi greatly overshadowed and became the primary focus of Epiphany and the others were largely neglected.  In 1955, Pope Pius XII created a Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord and, in 1969,  Pope Paul VI set the date of the feast as the first Sunday after Epiphany.  Anglicanism appears to have followed the popes’ lead in this movement since the 1928 Book of Common Prayer does not observe the feast, but the 1979 edition does.  Not nearly receiving the credit it is due, the Wedding at Cana is only read on the second Sunday after Epiphany every third year.

In reflecting upon the Baptism of Our Lord, one question always rises to the fore: why did Jesus need to be baptized?  John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance” (St. Mark 1:4; St. Luke 3:3; Acts 19:4) and Jesus “knew no sin.” (II Corinthians 5:21)  Since, as St. Peter reminds us, Jesus “committed no sin” (I Peter 2:22), why then did he need to undergo a baptism of repentance?  The question has puzzled laymen and theologians alike since the apostles went on to their heavenly rewards.

First off, Saint Hilary, a fourth century bishop of the French city Poitiers, reminds us that Our Lord did not need to be baptized at all.  “It was not because Christ had a need that he took a body and a name from our creation,” says the saint.  Likewise, “He had no need for baptism.”  It was not because He had a need that Our Lord became incarnate from the Virgin Mary.  He had no need to heal the sick, cause the lame to walk, give sight to the blind, raise the dead, suffer under Pontius Pilate, and die on a cross.  That was our need.  We needed him to take on our flesh that he might atone for our sin and redeem all flesh.  We needed him to heal us, open our eyes, raise us up with him that having “died with Christ… we shall also live with Him.” (I Corinthians 6:8)  Reiterating: Our Lord did not need to be baptized; we needed him to be baptized, and so He met our need.

Some will say that is only a semantic response that does not really answer the question.  Rephrasing, the question still remains: why did Our Lord insist that St. John baptize Him in the River Jordan?

In the second chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrew, the Apostle writes:

Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted. (vv 17-18)

Our Lord was made like us in all ways so that He could redeem all of us.  Were He not fully human, then He could not have fully and completely redeemed humanity.  In fully participating in our life, He was able to fully redeem our lives.  Through His participation, every aspect of our lives was able to be sanctified.  He sanctified birth through His own birth; He sanctified marriage through His attendance at the wedding at Cana; He sanctified death through His own death and resurrection.  By his own participation in the waters of Baptism, He sanctified those waters so that we might participate in Baptism and know forgiveness of sins before we face Our Maker in the Last Judgment.  As with all things, Our Lord acted on our behalf.  He humbled Himself to be baptized at the hands of a man, not for His own sake, but for ours.  Our Lord allowed Himself to be Baptized so that we might be baptized and receive our first forgiveness of sins.  All in all things, He led the way and showed us the way in which we should walk.  May we, in  all ways and in all aspects of our life, follow His example.

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