Monthly Archives: July 2011

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) the Founder of the Jesuits

Unless you are a Roman-Catholic, you have probably never heard of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and that is a shame.  Ignatius was born to a noble family in the Basque region of Spain.  He grew up rather unremarkably until he was hit by a cannonball in during the Battle of Pamplona in 1521.  The injury almost killed him and his recovery changed his life forever.  Lying on his sickbed, Ignatius could do little more than read.  He had asked to be given books detailing stories of knights on campaign and chivalry.  Instead he was given St. Thomas a Kempis’ Imitation of Christ.  That book thoroughly changed his life.  He became a Christian, dedicated his life to the service of the Lord, and birthed a religious society that became one of the most influential orders in the last five hundred years.

Beginning with five friends, Ignatius founded the Society of Jesus.  Today members place the letters “S.J.” after their names because, in spite of their more notable nickname, they are still members of the Society of Jesus.  Those who scoffed at Ignatius referred to his organization as “The Jesuits,” and the name became part of the society’s heritage.  The Jesuits were heavily involved in the response to the Protestant Reformation and were leaders in what has been called the Counter-Reformation.  Along with a heavy influence on missions, the Jesuits became highly involved in established educational institutions as a means of spreading the Catholic faith.  Part of their approach to missions was to educate the locals in reading and writing in order to raise up indigenous clergy who might have more credibility with the unconverted locals.  The method proved extremely effective and the Jesuits were key players in the evangelism of South America, India, and the Far East.

An Icon depicting St. Ignatis with one of his more famous phases Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (to the greater glory of God).

In America, the Jesuits are most known for their institutes of higher education.  St. Ignatius hailed from a region of Basque Spain known as Loyola and, as such, he is now known as St. Ignatius of Loyola.  There are four Loyola Universities in the United States.  They are located in Los Angeles, Baltimore, Chicago, and New Orleans.  I took my own undergraduate degree from Loyola University of New Orleans and, as such, I am a product of the notorious Jesuit educational system.

St. Ignatius and the Jesuits have been much maligned over the years.  Those who have professed the “Whore of Babylon” ideology of rabid anti-Catholicism have accuse the Jesuits of everything from idolatry to the John F. Kennedy assassination and the Holocaust, to even include the creation of Islam.  Yes, there are those who actually profess that the Jesuits (formed in the sixteenth century) secretly created Islam (founded in the seventh century).  In spite of all of the slander, St. Ignatius was a man fully dedicated to the service of the Lord.  He dedicated his entire adult life to the spread of the Gospel.  Even more so, he was a man dedicated to prayer.  To conclude this little homage to one of my patron saints, I will include two of the saint’s most famous prayers.  The first prayer, the Anima Christi, is often used as a post-communion prayer and the second is often used as a dedicatory prayer at the very beginning of the day.

Soul of Christ, sanctify me.
Body of Christ, save me.
Blood of Christ, inebriate me.
Water from the side of Christ, wash me.
Passion of Christ, strengthen me.
O Good Jesus, hear me.
Within your wounds hide me.
Suffer me never to be separated from you.
From the malicious enemy, defend me.
At the hour of my death, call me
and bid me come to you
That with your saints I may praise you
In life everlasting. Amen.

and

Teach us, good Lord, to serve thee as thou dost deserve;
to give, and not to count the cost,
to fight, and not to heed the wounds,
to toil, and not to seek for rest,
to labor, and not to ask for any reward,
save that of knowing that we do thy will. Amen.

O God, by whose grace your servant Ignatius, enkindled with the fire of your love, became a burning and a shining light in your Church: Grant that we also may be aflame with the spirit of love and discipline, and may ever walk before you as children of light; 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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Saints Joachim and Anna and Other Extra-Biblical Holidays

Saints Joachim and Anna are an interesting pair.  In terms of their chronology, they fall into that time period falsely known as the silent years, the four hundred or so years between the conclusion of the Old Testament and the beginning of the New Testament.  In spite of that, they never actually appear in any canonical gospel or epistle.  Truth be told, they do not actually appear in the Bible anywhere.  We only know of Saints Joachim and Anna from a late second century work known as the Proto-Evangelion Jacobi, or the Infancy Gospel of James.

The work says, probably falsely, that it is the writing of St. James the Just, the brother of Jesus Christ, who wrote the book to inform the Church the details from the life of Christ.  Although it is not canonical, we get a great deal of tradition from the book.  The Infancy Gospel of James may be one of the first sources which write about the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The apocryphal gospel mentions that St. James was a son of St. Joseph, himself a widower, who married the Blessed Virgin Mary later in his life and, therefore, St. James was a would have been regarded as a half-brother to Jesus.  The work discusses the birth and early life of the Blessed Virgin Mary including the names of her parents, Joachim and Anna.

“So what,” I hear some readers asking.  Who cares about some tradition which is patently non-biblical?  Well, first off, those traditions are not exactly “non-biblical;” they are “extra-biblical.”  What is the difference?  Something that goes against what is stated in the Bible is non-Biblical.  The English heretic Pelagius held the non-biblical position that man could attain salvation by his own labor.  That goes against what is said in the New Testament.  It basically slaps St. Paul and the entire Epistle to the Galatians in the face.  Something which is extra-biblical is not expressly stated in the Bible, but neither does it expressly contradict what is said in the Bible either.

The ideas that St. Joseph was an older man and a widower, that St. James the Just was his son from a previous marriage, and that the Blessed Virgin Mary worked in the Temple as a youth sewing the veil are never expressly stated anywhere in the Bible.  Then again, the Bible never expressly contradicts those ideas either.  Some will try to make assertions about the meaning of the word “brother” as it refers to St. James, but the fact is that the usage of the word is so diverse that it barely holds any meaning at all.  I have several good friends whom I refer to as brothers.  I bumped into a former parishioner in a Starbucks while sitting down to compose this and referred to him as “brother.”  Why would we think that a bunch of rabble would use a precise genetic term while hurling their insults at the Lord?

Whether they are a part of Holy Scripture or not, the Blessed Virgin Mary had parents.  Based on her holy and righteous lifestyle, we can assume that her parents were probably among the top ten parents in the Bible.  They did a fantastic job raising her, right?  When confronted by an Angel of the Lord, she did not cower in fear or run away.  She responded by following the Angel’s words and submitting herself to the will of the Lord.  A great deal of good seed has to be sown into a young child in order to produce good fruit like that.  We can assume that Saints Joachim and Anna (or whatever their “real” namesl might have been) played a rather large part in that.

Since 1978, the first Sunday after Labor Day has been nationally recognized as Grandparents’ Day.  I always blamed Hallmark; it turns out it was the United States Senate.  Aside from being the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saints Joachim and Anna were also Our Lord’s grandparents.  My kids spend a great deal of time with their grandparents.  Aside from my wife and I, our parents are probably one of the strongest and best influences on our kids.  We can assume that, Jesus had some really great grandparents too.  Maybe the Church should pick this day out of the year and claim it as the Church’s Grandparent’s Day.  It may very well be extra-biblical, but it sure seems like a good idea and it is certainly not non-biblical.

Almighty God, heavenly Father, we remember in thanksgiving this day the parents of the Blessed Virgin Mary; and we pray that we all may be made one in the heavenly family of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever.  Amen.

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The Patriarch on Infant Baptism

Last night (Sunday), I returned from a four-day diocesan youth retreat at the Chapel of Divine Mercy in Deland, Florida.  I am so proud that my wife completed her orientation at St. Vincent’s Medical Center today and is now a bona fide employee of Emergency Pregnancy Services.  Both of those previously mentioned facts lead me to the admission that I have just not completed the article that should have gone up Sunday night at 8 o’clock.  Monday is the feast of St. James the Apostle and, God willing, I will be able to get that post up tomorrow.  In the mean while, as I am at home playing Mr. Mom and wishing I could escape to a nice wi-fi network, I post this as bait for the trolls.  Archbishop Craig Bates is the Patriarch of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  While this is not an official pronouncement of the Church, it carries a great deal of authority.

The last few months I have been approached by several young Christians and asked to defend “infant baptism.” I am not sure, however, that as a Biblical Christian I need to defend a practice that has long been accepted by the vast majority of Christians, including most Evangelical Christians. The fact is that those who support the position of “believer’s baptism” as an act of obedience rather than as sacrament are in the minority. The position they take would ignore the reality that the early Church indeed baptized infants and that this practice was not only the norm but was universally practiced by all Christians until the late sixteenth century. Not only do they find themselves in disagreement with the Church Fathers like Athanasius and Augustine, who were most certainly men of Scripture, but also with the Reformers like Martin Luther and Calvin.

Those of who defend the Christian and Biblical practice of baptizing infants need merely offer the defense that this teaching and practice is not only Biblical but is the practice of the Church from Apostolic times. Those who hold to so called “believer’s baptism” are in the ones who need to defend their position. The fact is that their position originates in the post-Reformation Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth century. And, again their position has been rejected not only by Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and Anglicans, but the vast majority of Churches that grew out of the Reformation.

It is correct that the Holy Scriptures does not specially command the baptism of infants nor are there any specific examples in the Book of Acts of an infant being baptized. Though we do find examples of “households” being baptized. The lack of evidence of infants being baptized can easily be explained. The Book of Acts is the record of first generation Christians all of whom were adults. It is not clear what these new converts did with their children.

The proponents of “believer’s baptism” would suggest that infants are excluded from receiving baptism since as an infant they cannot make a profession of faith. I wonder how they would deal with the text from the Psalmist, “For you are He who drew me from the mother’s womb, my hope from my mother’s breasts; I was cast upon You from the womb; from my mother’s womb you are My God.” (Psalm 21.10-11) It is clear that in the Covenant God made with Abraham – marked by circumcision – which infants not only could be in covenantal relationship with God but were in covenantal relationship with God. (Genesis 17.10-13) It would seem strange would it not that the same God who brings infants into relationship with himself in the covenant of Abraham would now withhold that relationship from those in the covenant of Christ Jesus who said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Mark 10.14) The word for here for “children” is the Greek word “paidia” which can be translated “babes in arms” or “infants”.

Isn’t this the very reason that many who hold to “believer’s baptism” practice “baby dedications” which has little if any Scriptural support and was not practiced until late in the seventeenth century? If we want to obey Jesus and bring the “babes in arms” to Him then isn’t the way to do this baptism?

There are five specific references in Scripture to the baptism of entire households.

  • Peter baptized the household of Cornelius (Acts 11.14)
  • Paul baptized the household of Lydia and the household of the Jailer (Acts 16.15,33)
  • Paul baptized the household of Crispus, the ruler of the Synagogue in Corinth (Acts 18:8)
  • And Paul baptized the household of Stephanas. (1 Corinthians 1.16)

The Greek word for “household” is “oikon” and refers to all who abide in the household including wives, slaves, servants, infants, and children. If children were excluded would not the text had read that only the adult members of the household were baptized? Would we be so naïve as to suggest that in the household of Cornelius, Lydia, the jailer, Crispus and Stephanas there were no children or infants?

From the beginnings the Church Fathers – those closest to the actual events of the Scriptures and often the disciples of the Apostles – related baptism to the covenantal act of circumcision. In Colossians 2.9-12, Paul compares the effect of baptism to the effect of circumcision, which took place at eight days old. And, we can see in reading the Father’s that the practice of baptizing children and infants was a common practice as early as the later part of the first century – Apostolic times.

What about the text in Mark 16.16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” Or, the text in Matthew 28.19-20, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey all things that I have commanded you, and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

The proponents of “believer’s baptism” would argue that these texts should be read chronologically. That is, they would suggest that one must first believe and then be baptized. They conclude, that since an infant is not able to “confess their faith”, because they have not reach an age of reason, they cannot be baptized. Hence they are excluded until reaching a proper age. The problem is that these texts are not to be read chronologically since the verbs “believe” and “baptized” are participles. So, as a person who was baptized as an infant I can legitimately say, “I believe, and I have been baptized.” Matthew 28, the Great Commission, says that we make disciples or followers of Jesus through “baptism” and “teaching”. Does teaching necessarily follow baptism? Of course not! They are not chronological. If the issue were chronological, i.e., “believe, confess faith, be saved, and then be baptized”, the text in Mark would have to read, “Whoever believes and is saved will be baptized.”

Baptism is an act of grace that precedes faith. Ephesians 2.8-9 reads, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Salvation is not an act of man, certainly not of man’s reason or intellectual consent, but an act of the love, mercy, and grace of God. Both faith and grace are works of God into the sinful, stubborn, and prideful heart of humanity. Can we deny that the God who gives the most arrogant and hardhearted man the faith and grace to be saved would deny that same grace to an infant? Faith is a glorious gift of God given by the Holy Spirit. Certainly an infant who has been baptized will need to receive and respond to the grace given to them throughout their entire lives. And, for some that will be a “dramatic” or “profound spiritual awakening”. But the gift of grace always precedes the gift of faith.

I would suggest that those who hold to “believers baptism” have falsely placed the emphasis on the response of man rather than the grace of God. They will over and over again talk about how “they went forward”, “they made a decision” and “they got saved” rather than on the marvelous and life transforming grace of God found in Jesus. They falsely argue that we are “saved by faith through grace” not as Paul so clearly and accurately taught, “we are saved by grace through faith”. Should we not bring our infants under the grace of God? Then certainly we must face our parental responsibility to teach our children the truth and train them to “walk by faith.”

I do not deny the reality that many people, including myself, came to a transforming moment in their life when their relationship with Christ Jesus came alive. They went from having the faith of their parents and church family to having a faith of their own. For many, this moment in time so transformed them that they were set free from the bondages of alcohol, sexual promiscuity, drug addiction and other life controlling problems or sins. Indeed, every Christian should be in a personal relationship with Christ Jesus as their Lord. But is this a failure of their baptism? Or is this a failure of the Church and families to lead our children to such a personal relationship?Isn’t the most powerful “testimony” of God’s love a person who can say, “I have always known Christ as my Lord and Savior?” Yes, I believe the Church needs to be active in awakening people to the reality of the Risen Christ and a life lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. But this doesn’t negate infant baptism.

There is no question that the Church has over the centuries misused the sacrament of baptism. There is no question that many have been baptized out of superstition. It is also sad that many parents fail to teach their children the things necessary to walk in the truth or nurture them in the knowledge and love of the Lord. It is a sad fact that there are “baptized persons” all around us that have never come to a living relationship with Jesus nor known the joy of being filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not because they were baptized as infants. How many have made “altar calls” or gone to crusades to “make a decision” and have fallen from the faith? We need remember the teaching of Jesus in Matthew 13.1-19,18-23.

The early Christians, who saw Scripture as their authority, were clear that infants were not to be excluded from baptism for to do so would exclude them from the grace of God in the sacrament as well as exclusion from initiation into the household of God, the family of God, the bride of Christ, and the Body of Christ.

The Supreme Court of the United States and now legislators around the world have declared that infants in the mother’s womb are not persons. Therefore these precious infants, who are formed and created in the mind of God for His purpose and plan, are denied the basic God given rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are excluded from the community of man. Mothers and fathers have been deceived into believing that life begins at some man-determined time and therefore they can destroy the life of their child. It seems to me, now more than ever, that as the Church we continue to administer the Biblical and historic practice of baptism to infants and so affirm the truth that all life is sacred from fertilization to natural death. Baptism not only conveys the incredible and scandalous grace of God but also strengthens the family and the household of God.

The Most Rev’d Craig Bates is the Patriarch of the International Communion of the Charismatic Episcopal Church, the Primate of the Charismatic Episcopal Church of North America, Bishop Ordinary of the Diocese of the Northeast, and Rector of Cathedral Church of the Intercessor in Malverne, New York.

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Mary Magdalene: Saint or Sinner?

There is a great deal of confusion about Saint Mary Magdalene.  The fact that Mary was one of the most common feminine names in first century Judea does not help to clarify anything at all.  Here is what we know for absolute certain about St. Mary Magdalene.  Prior to the Passion of Our Lord, the Magdalene is only mentioned by name once.  St. Luke includes here in a list of disciples who followed Jesus along with the Apostles.  The Physician states,

“Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities—Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.” (8:1-3)

St. Mary Magdalene was mentioned by name as being present at both the Crucifixion and burial of Our Lord (St. Matthew 27:56, 61; St. Mark 15:40, 47; St. John 19:25).  Furthermore, the Saint is best known for being among the very first witnesses of the Resurrected Jesus Christ.  All four Evangelists make specific mention of St. Mary Magdalene going to the tomb on the morning of the first day of the week to anoint the body of Jesus for a proper burial.  In each account, the Magdalene returns to tell the other Apostles, who disbelieve her account.  In St. John’s Gospel, having followed Saints Peter and John back to the tomb and remaining there once they have returned to their own homes, the Magdalene encounters the Risen Jesus and must be directed “do not cling to me”. (20:17)  She returned to the Upper Room and, regrettably, once again the Apostles refused to believe her testimony.

Now we turn to the confusing parts.  In a sermon in 591, Pope Gregory the Great preached a sermon where he said that Mary of Bethany was the same woman that St. Luke mentions in chapter 7.  The unnamed sinner of St. Luke 7 anointed the feet of Jesus with her own hair in the same fashion that Mary of Bethany does so in St. John 12:1-3.  Drawing some conclusions that were later deemed to be unfounded, the Pope decided that these two women were actually one and, taking it one step further, the Pope also declare that St. Mary Magdalene and St. Mary of Bethany were the same person.  Gregory the Great referred to her as a prostitute and extolled her as one of the greatest examples of a repentant heart and amended life in the entire Gospel.  Thus, in the Western Church, St. Mary Magdalene became known as a repentant prostitute who turned her life around and became one of the most esteemed followers of Christ.  The Eastern Church never came to the same conclusion.  In fact, Eastern Orthodox tradition says that the Magdalene was so pious and devout throughout her entire life that Satan believed God might conceived the Messiah in that Mary and that Satan sent the seven demons to torment her just in case.  Regardless of her occupation beforehand, she was, after all, the first person, man or woman, to actually see the Risen Jesus!

There is a lesson for us even in our confusion about who the Magdalene was before she came to know Christ.  The lesson it that it does not really matter!   This may be an irritating prospect to the one who has lived “as a saint” for their whole life, but to the sinner who has come to know Jesus, it is hope and salvation.  What if the Magdalene were a prostitute before her exorcism?  Jesus saved her.  He took her sins away and washed her whiter than the whitest linen.  What if she had lived her life in the saintliest way imaginable?  St. Paul tells us that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)  In the same epistle, the Apostle also informs us that “There is none righteous, no not one.” (3:10)  Even if everyone else around her believed that she were truly a saintly woman, she too had sin in her life; everyone does.  So what then?  Jesus saved her.  He took her sins away and washed her whiter than the whitest linen.

St. Paul explains this process quite beautifully in the sixth chapter of his Epistle to the Romans.  He asks a question and then responds with his own answer:

“Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,  knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.  For he who has died has been freed from sin.  Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.  For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.  Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (vv. 3-11)

Essentially, what St. Paul is saying is that when we are baptized, the sinner that we were is crucified with Christ.  Those sins which we committed in life are atoned for on the Cross, yes, even the ones that had not yet been committed when he died!  When we are baptized in to Jesus Christ, our sins are put to death and we rise alive in Christ Jesus.  Thanks be to God!

Ultimately, it does not matter if the world called you a saint or a whore before you came to Jesus.  What does matter is that, after coming face to face with Jesus Christ, He calls you His child.  Who you were died on Calvary’s Cross.  The question was never “what did you do?”  Now, having seen the Risen Lord, the question is “What will you do now?”

Almighty God, whose blessed Son restored Mary Magdalene to health of body and mind, and called her to be a witness of his resurrection: Mercifully grant that by your grace we may be healed of all our infirmities and know you in the power of his endless life; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

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St. Benedict: Work, Study, and Prayer at The House

I owe a great deal of my priestly formation to Saint Benedict of Nursia.  Benedict was born in a small town in central Italy to noble parents.  He had all the blessings that wealthy Roman life could provide in the late fifth century, but, at the turn of that century, he realized how horrendous society was, rejected the dissolute lifestyles he saw all around him and spent three years living as a hermit in a cave by himself.  Eventually, a group of monks begged him to come to their community and become their abbot, the head of a monastic community.  He agreed and they regretted it.  After a short period under his strict governance, the monks tried to poison him—twice actually.  First, they poisoned his cup.  When Benedict prayed a blessing over the chalice, it shattered.  The monks likewise poisoned his bread.  When he blessed the bread, a raven flew into the the room and swooped off with the poisoned bread.  Let that be a lesson to you: always bless your food before you eat it!

After these attempts on his life, St. Benedict returned to his cave only to be called out again by those who wanted him to become their abbot.  This time his monks were more receptive and in his lifetime he established another twelve monasteries.  To aid in the establishment of each monastery he composed his RuleThe Rule of St. Benedict is regarded as a spiritual classic and masterpiece of Christian asceticism.  In his Rule, St. Benedict outlined the characteristics and traits of a monk, how to live humbly, how to manage a monastery, the duties of an abbot, and, perhaps most importantly, how to participate in the Divine Office.  St. Benedict divided the days of the monks into work, study, and prayer.  The monks prayed the various services of the day, called offices, eight times a day and read the entire Psalter (the Books of Psalms) each and every week.  Click here to see the Benedictine Psalter, a chart of which Psalms they read at each of their offices during the week.  In 2,000 AD, there were over twenty-five thousand active Benedictine monks, nuns, and sisters.  This does not include the various Cistercian and Trappist Orders which are derived from the Benedictines. 

What does this have to do with my priestly formation?  When I attended seminary, I left the opulence and decadence of New Orleans for the rustic wilds of central Wisconsin. There, nestled in between two lakes in the middle of the woods, was Nashotah House Theological Seminary.  Founded in 1842, the seminary began as a staging point for missionary activities to the Native Americans—sort of a “Last Gas ‘til California” rest-stop.  Very quickly, however, the site became a school for religious training and ultimately became Wisconsin’s first institute of higher education.  Birthed as part of the Oxford and Tractarian Movements, the seminary upheld the high church Anglo-Catholicism of the Anglican Communion.  When I attended, daily Eucharist along with morning and evening prayer was required except on Saturdays and half of those services were sung services.  Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament was encouraged as were several devotional societies including the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament and the Society of Mary.  I often said that Nashotah was so conservative and high church that in the Episcopal Church we were practically “lunatic fringe.” 

The seminary maintained its traditions quite well and the students were required to support the school.  This included tuition, but more importantly came through the students own work.  Decades before I matriculated, the students worked the farm, rising early in the morning to milk the cows, gather the eggs, tend the fields, and various other agricultural tasks of which I am completely ignorant.  In my day, the farm was no longer maintained, but students still managed the upkeep of the school.  The entire student body was divided into work crew which had the responsibility of maintaining the various buildings.  This was no easy task when you consider that the campus was four hundred eleven acres consisting of around thirty different buildings. 

Why did we do this?  Because of Benedictine Spirituality.  Remember that St. Benedict modeled his Rule on the idea that each monk should regularly participate in work, study, and prayer.  This we did.  At a seminary, one would hope the study and prayer would be foregone conclusions, but, just in case, it was mandatory.  Stories were told of the Dean gathering together a deacon and few students together and processing the Blessed Sacrament to a student who was absent at Morning Prayer and Holy Eucharist.  The reason being that, of course, the only reason one would ever miss those services was if one were sick and unable to make the services. Work as also a vital part of our formation.  It was essential, in the eyes of the founders and our dean, that we realize that ministry comes with work.  Sometimes you are praying and preparing sermons, sometimes you are making pastoral calls, and sometimes you are the one who has to clean the bathroom.  These things we did.  I was lucky.  I had the outdoor work crew.  We ran a small fleet of riding lawnmowers and oversized weed-eaters.  We moved anything and everything from one building to another.  We hauled limbs and branches to the dump after particularly bad storms and we even had to go in the lake once or twice.  On top that, each and every student had at least one or two shifts in the kitchen doing “dish duty.” 

The seminary ran with twelve employees (excepting faculty and the Dean) while I was there.  Remember: 30 buildings and 411 acres.  Making use of student involvement was both cost effective and good for our spiritual development.  I have rarely seen a Son of the House who was afraid to get his hands dirty.  Most of them have a “can-do” step up and get the job done attitude.  Maybe it is because of their studies in servant leadership.  Maybe it is because of their hours spent in prayer and meditation in St. Mary’s Chapel.  More likely, it is because they spent three years cleaning and maintaining the 411 acres of Nashotah House.  In any case, whether they owe this spirit to their hours of study, prayer, or work, we have St. Benedict to thank.

Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord’s service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Why the Daily Office?

Recently, my father was trying to explain the Daily Office to a friend of his.  The Daily Office is a routine set of Bible readings and prayers ordered out in a particular way.  It can be, to say the least, a bit confusing at first.  After explaining his own routine to his friend, the friend responded with a simple inquiry: “Why?”  That brings us to today’s topic…

Let us begin with some brief background information.  Shortly after the Exodus, the LORD consecrated Aaron and his sons to be the first High Priest and the priestly line thereafter.  Following that consecration, the LORD commanded that the priests should offer two lambs every day on the altar, one in the morning and one in the evening.  That continued for centuries as the Hebrews passed from the Tabernacle in the Wilderness to Solomon’s Temple.  Some scholars believe that a set of readings from the Torah, Psalms, and the Prophets developed during the Babylonian Exile.  They theorize that, since they could not bring the daily sacrifice of lambs to the altar, they could, in the words of the Prophet Jeremiah, bring a “sacrifice of praise” to the LORD.  (Jeremiah 33:11)  By the time of Our Lord’s Incarnation, there were various daily readings in each synagogue, for the morning and for the evening.  As the son of just and upright parents, Jesus would have regularly gone to the synagogues and heard the rabbis recite the readings from the Psalms, the Torah, and the Prophets each and every day.  This, in part, explains why the most oft-quoted book in the New Testament is not the Prophet Isaiah (a distant second), but is actually the Book of Psalms.

During the early Middle Ages, Christians who felt Christianity had been corrupted by the newly converted Roman Empire, isolated themselves and formed religious communities dedicated to prayer.  This was the origin of monasticism.  These men and women developed elaborate systems of readings for the Psalms, Old Testament, New Testament, and the Gospels so that the entire body of Holy Scriptures would be read, in some cases quite frequently, over the year.  As a result, Holy Scripture so infused their lives, that when one looks at their writings, you can hardly tell what is Scripture and what is their own thought. 

Later, the elaborate system of the monasteries was simplified into what we now call the Daily Office.  In consists primarily of a routine for Morning Prayer and for Evening Prayer.  Each office opens with a sentence from Scripture and a introductory Psalm or hymn to “set the mood.”  There is a reading of one or more Psalms followed by one or two passages from Scripture.  After each scriptural reading there is what is called a “Canticle,” or a song taken from Scripture.  The Songs of Mary, Zechariah, and Simeon are some of the best examples (St. Luke 1:46-55, 68-79; 2:29-32), but others are taken from Exodus, Isaiah, Revelation, and various parts of the Apocrypha.  After the readings and Canticles come the Apostles’ Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, and other prayers that vary by day, week, or season.  There is, of course, time given for free intercession.

So, now, why the Daily Office?  There are four reasons.

1. The Daily Office incorporates Lectio Divina into daily prayer time.  Lectio Divinia means simply “Divine Readings.”  The Daily Office is intensely reliant on a regular progression of readings through the Holy Scriptures.  Throughout the course of the two-year cycle, the overwhelming majority of the Old Testament is read; the New Testament is read each year and the Holy Gospels are read even more frequently.  Beyond that, those who pray the Daily Office do not go skittering about Scripture on a whim; they proceed quite regularly through the various testaments and the Gospel, following one passage after another.  For a few weeks, one might read a chapter of the Prophet Isaiah and the Gospel according to Saint Luke.  After a season, one proceeds into the Prophet Jeremiah and the Gospel according to Saint Matthew.  Spirit led prayer is a part of the Daily Office.  There is little need for the “Bible in a Year” plans when one already prays the Daily Office.

2. The Daily Office makes heavy use of the very best “Liturgical Music.”  The Book of Psalms is perhaps the most under utilized book of the Bible.  As a collection of hymns, it often goes over-looked.  This should be far from the case.  The Psalms were “Jesus’ Prayer Book.”  It is from the Book of Psalms that Jesus quoted most frequently.  Rather than relying on a nearby hymnal, one who prays the Daily Office reads the hymns on which Our Lord grew up.  The historic Church gave so much esteem to the Book of Psalms that Saint Benedict of Nursia, who some call the founder of Western Monasticism, made it part of his Rule that his monks had to pray the entire Psalter, all 150 Psalms, each week!  As part of the modern Daily Office, the majority of the Psalms are prayed on a seven-week cycle.  In addition to the Psalms, after each reading, as previously states, one reads another song from Holy Scripture.  It might be one of the three already mentioned, but could be the Song of Moses (Exodus 151-6, 11-13, 17-18), The Songs of Isaiah (12:1-6; 55:6-11; 60:1-3, 11, 14, 18-19) or the Prayer of Manasseh.  Again, rather than puttering about for a hymnal, one reads Holy Scripture put to music and, whether said or sung, those songs become a part of one’s being.  I am not one given to quoting long passages of Scripture, but some of the Canticles have become ingrained in my memory that I wonder if I could ever forget them.  Is that not a lofty goal in and of itself?

3. The set of proscribed prayers help drive us into a routine of praying appropriately rather than what we feel at the time.  It is too easy to let the first thing on our mind dominate our personal prayer time.  With the Lord’s Prayer, the responses, the weekly and nightly collects, as well as the prayers for the Church’s mission, we routinely touch on those issue which we ought never neglect in our prayer life: the poor and needy, those in government and justice, those who are sick, those who do not know the Lord, as well as grace and protection for our own walk with the Lord.  Additionally, those rote prayers, so often maligned by the more charismatic Christians, help us develop what I call Spirit Memory.  You have likely heard of “muscle memory.”  It comes when an athlete trains and trains and practices and practices to the point when they can perform certain skills practically blind-folded.  The perfect visual for this is the move The Karate Kid.  In that movie Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel (or Mr. Han trains Dre, depending on your generation) by making him wax his cars, sand his patio deck, and paint his fence (or, again, taking on and off his jacket).  After weeks of this training the young student throws an absolute fit before an impressive display of how what he has learned is truly applicable to Karate.  The same can be applied to rote prayer.  Take a good godly prayer; pray it until it becomes like second nature; when a crisis comes, watch that prayer spring to your mind before you have even had time to think, “what should I do now?”  Rote prayers develop spirit memory just as athletic drills develop muscle memory.

4. The Daily Office is convergence worship.  Obviously, because of its intense reliance on Holy Scripture for its use of the Psalms, Readings, Canticles and response, the Daily Office is an evangelical exercise.  Because of its requisite professions of faith, use of Holy Spirit inspired Canticles and personal Spirit-led prayer time, the Daily Office is a charismatic exercise.  The Daily Office is not a sacrament, but it is sacramental.  The traditional definition of a sacrament is “an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.”  In praying the Daily Office the one who prays is a physical sign of at least three different graces.  First, that we have a God who has bestowed upon us the gift of Holy Scripture; second, that we have a God who has given us the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to assist us in prayer; and, third, that we have a God who listens to our prayers.  As such, the Daily Office is a sacramental exercise.

That is why the Daily Office.

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Fr. Looker to teach upcoming St. Michael’s Seminary course on-line

Beginning on September 17, Fr. Scott Looker will teach a course in New Testament Theology (BS-510) for St. Michael’s Seminary, the denominational seminary program for the Charismatic Episcopal Church.  The class will meet once per month for five months.  Registration forms are available at the website of the Charismatic Episcopal Church of North America.  Click on the “Saint Michael’s Seminary” tab, go to “Seminary Courses”, and download the registration form for BS-510.  Instructions for registration are included on the form.  If you would like more information about this course or St. Michael’s Seminary, please e-mail Fr. Bill McLoughlin, or contact him by phone at 828-691-5455.  Registrations must be received by August 31, 2011.

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