Sunday, May 31, 2009

Can It Be 45 Years Already?!

It slipped up on me! The 45th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood, which took place on May 31, 1964, at St. Charles Seminary, Carthagena, Ohio.  

There used to be a saying around the rural area of the Seminary: that "when the dandelions come out on the lawn, it's time for ordinations."  I have no doubt that they were out in all their glory on that beautiful morning.  Ten of us deacons, along with the class of subdeacons, lay prostrate on the marble floor of the Assumption of Our Lady Chapel as the choir and congregation besought all the angels and saints of the Church to pray for us as we prepared to take one of the most significant steps in our young lives. Bishop Paul Leibold, then Bishop Coadjutor of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, who'd been a school classmate of my Mom and my Aunt Florence, layed hands on us.  After the Eucharist which we all concelebrated with him, once we were ordained, Father John Byrne, C.PP.S., Provincial of the Society of the Precious Blood invested us with the distinctive mission crucifix and chain which we wore in our preaching ministry, after the example of the founder of our Order, St. Gaspar del Bufalo.  It was a good day, a joyous day, and will always remain etched in my mind and heart.  

Thanks be to God for 45 years of blessings and ministry with my fellows Christians!   

Pentecost: Getting Our Hearts Around the Corner

In Acts 2:1-21 Luke tells us that Jesus’ family, Apostles, and friends -- about 120 souls, as he mentions earlier -- were gathered together on the day of the Jewish celebration of Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks. The name comes from 
pentecostos, the 50th day, or 7 weeks, after the Passover celebration. One of three major Jewish celebrations, along with Passover and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement), Pentecost was originally a day of thanksgiving and rejoicing for the wheat harvest; later it became associated with God’s establishing of His people by giving them the Covenant through Moses on Mt. Sinai. On this feastday pilgrims would have travelled to Jerusalem from areas all around the Mediterranean Basin. 

During this week-long celebration, says Luke, there occurred one of those “epiphanies”, a shining out, a revelation, often associated in Scripture with God’s sudden appearance and presence. You can feel it in the images Luke uses: suddenly/a rush/mighty wind/flames as of fire/people filled with the Spirit of God/the murmur of many languages being spoken. 

The uniqueness of this Pentecost epiphany is in the proclaiming
of and the hearing, under the Holy Spirit’s power, about God’s mighty works. Later in Acts, Peter spells this out. The Good News proclaimed is specifically those mighty doings of God through the life, words, and actions of Jesus of Nazareth. The message is that all this is now to be preached and continued throughout the known world, guided by the Holy Spirit. 

I think it would be a mistake to view Pentecost as God the Holy Spirit’s coming in order to be a sort of Supernatural Cheerleader, whipping up in people of the early Church a formidable enthusiasm which we in the Church today ought to be seeking to recover; or to interpret the gift of the Holy Spirit as a sort of behavioral badge, given to somehow put a seal of approval on my own personal experience of God.

The miracle of Pentecost -- for the early Church and for us -- is that God is still powerfully present and working every day in people’s lives, and that this is still being witnessed to, told, heard, and hopefully believed in the name of Jesus the Christ. That is miracle enough for the Church.

Pentecost recalls all those other extra special moments in our lives when we’re touched, to the point of being ecstatic, literally “standing outside of ourselves”, by our awareness of God working in our lives and in the world. But if we were to be that awe-struck day after day, the ordinary things like eating, sleeping, working, and taking care of others would never get done. We’d be paralyzed by wonder.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of Christians who try to do just that: to invest as much as possible of their lives with the aura of Pentecost, forgetting that even Jesus and the great saints of history didn’t live “on the mountaintop” day after day. And, realistically, neither do you and I. There needs to be balance and proportion between the special and the ordinary moments of our life.

Let's be aware that after all of today's Pentecostal fanfare, beginning this week, the Church’s liturgical season is called “Time after Pentecost”.  It’s often referred to as “ordinary time”. I call it the “long, green season” because for the next 26 weeks we’ll be wearing mostly green vestments! By and large, the Gospel lessons during this time are about Jesus’ day-to-day ministry: his preaching, healing, and travelling about -- all seemingly terribly ordinary, except for the Spirit’s touch.

For some folks the word “ordinary” means “dull”, “boring”, or “joyless”. That’s unfortunate, for there’s something very special about even ordinary times, places, and objects. The organ in your chest, for example, your heart, beats with even, quiet ordinariness (hopefully), yet is the very thing which enables you to breathe and to live. The Hebrew word for “breath” or “wind”, ruach, by the way, is the same word used for the Spirit.

Trees and flowers which seem so ordinary and taken-for-granted, so normal, can still evoke amazement and wonder in us with their special beauty. And what could be more ordinary than the water through which each of us became a new being in Baptism, just like water over which Genesis tells us the ruach, the Spirit, hovered. Yet through it we became Christ’s own forever. Through this ordinary symbol and God’s mighty doing, we received the promised Holy Wind or Spirit of Pentecost.

Jesus Himself took ordinary human staples of food: bread and wine, and made them the enduring signs by which He becomes present with us until He comes again in glory. We ask in the Eucharistic Prayer: “Sanctify them by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son.

And we, ordinary people, have been called in our Baptism, commissioned, ordained, to carry on the mission and ministry of proclaiming and sharing the Good News of God in Christ. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” Jesus says to the disciples. To receive God’s Spirit is to hear, to assent to, to let ourselves be guided into action, and to share Jesus the Word with anyone who will listen. “...we hear them telling in our own language the mighty works of God."

The story is told of a missionary who was sent to work among people whose culture had no word for the Holy Spirit as Advocate or Counselor. So they invented a new phrase which described the Holy Spirit as “the One who helps you get your heart around the corner.” Jesus has certainly delivered on His promise to send us “the One who helps [us] get [our] hearts around the corner”. In the power of God’s Spirit, who is the very Presence and Love of God, you and I, as ordinary as we are, are called to be “other advocates”, encouragers for others. There are many times when we all struggle because of the absence of Jesus (physically), because of the hopelessness we perceive in our society and in our world, or because of our own personal difficulties and griefs. The model for our Christian ministry to one another under God’s Spirit, rooted solidly in our Baptism, should be the role of advocate, comforter, healer, reconciler, encourager. Gertrud Mueller Nelson, in her book To Dance with God, expresses it like this:

In the mystery of Pentecost, we await the gift of
tongues -- the ability to hear and speak the word,
each as we come to know it, understand it, and
proclaim it in the uniqueness of our personhood.
The gift is to interpret the meaning of Christ’s
mission as it unfolds in our human experience,
and through it we discover a common language.
Meaning is what our waiting minds perceive and
love, the word each heart understands....

Saturday, May 30, 2009

"My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord..."

Since the feast of the Visitation this year is pre-empted by the major celebration of Pentecost, I thought I'd slip it in here on this Saturday which has no particular liturgical commemoration.  Fr. John Julian, OJN, monk and founder of the Order of Julian of Norwich has a new book on the saints which will appear this summer: Stars In A Dark World. The following is just a sampling from his wonderful collection.

"During the international General Chapter of the Franciscan Order in 1263, the great Saint Bonaventure proposed a new feast day for the Franciscan liturgical calendar on July 2: it was to be the Feast of the Visitation of Our Lady, commemorating the Blessed Virgin’s visit to her cousin Elizabeth as recorded in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 1:39-56). The Chapter embraced the idea, and the feast began to be celebrated among Franciscans.

It seems an insoluble mystery why this clearly Biblically-based and fairly central event in the grand picture of the Incarnation should not have received an earlier liturgical commemoration, especially since it did receive homiletic attention from some of the great preachers: Origen, Jerome, Ambrose, Cyprian. It may be that it was seen earlier to be simply an integral part of the Annunciation drama, and did not need separate attention in its own right. 

After the feast had been kept for over a hundred years by the Franciscans, and during the Great Schism in the western Church – when there were two men claiming to be Pope, one in Rome and the other in Avignon – the Roman pope, Urban VI, proposed the adoption of the Feast of the Visitation apparently as a kind of spiritual bribe to obtain the intercession of the Blessed Virgin on behalf of his side of the schism. His death in 1389 delayed the process slightly, but his successor Boniface IX, in one of his first acts as Roman Pope, formally adopted and promulgated the feast – but the promulgation was effective, of course, only in those places which recognized the Roman Pope, that is, in England, most of Germany, Scandinavia, and northern and central Italy. Boniface’s stated purpose for the feast was to implore the aid of the Virgin Mary towards the ending of the Papal Schism. (Apparently to little effect, since the schism lasted another fifty years.)

Fifty-two years later, after the Schism was at long last healed, the stormy Council of Basle in 1441 once again ordered the celebration of the feast, and finally Pius V (the same Pope who excommunicated Queen Elizabeth) established the feast formally for the whole Roman Catholic Church in 1568, and in 1662 it was included in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England. 

In 1969, the liturgical commemoration of the Visitation was moved from July 2 to May 31 (halfway between the Annunciation and the Nativity of Saint John the Baptist)...

...Elizabeth’s greeting of Mary is the basis for the widely-used
Angelus. The reaction of the fetal John is both a foretelling of his own prophetic role as forerunner and “announcer” of the Messiah, and an expression of the joy that must eventually have overcome the women’s confusion and uncertainty. Elizabeth says that her baby “leapt for joy” in her womb – just the verb itself means a carefree skipping or leaping like lambs in a field.

And, of course, the Gospel account of the Visitation contains the most famous of all Canticles, the Magnificat. Since the 6th century, this Canticle has been used at Vespers in virtually all Western monastic traditions, where its importance has been emphasized by its special Antiphons and – at Solemn Vespers – by the use of incense during the singing of the Canticle. In the Greek Church, the Magnificat is sung daily in the morning office, except on a few exceptional feasts.

This universal popularity has made the text attractive to serious Biblical scholars over the centuries, and since the Magnificat is the centerpiece of the Visitation account, it is significant that in some six ancient biblical manuscripts or commentaries, the speaker of the Magnificat is identified not as the Blessed Virgin Mary, but as Saint Elizabeth. It is
obvious that the Canticle is modeled on the Old Testament Song of Hannah (another barren wife who is given a miraculous pregnancy), and there are many lines in the Canticle which seem to apply to Elizabeth more perhaps appropriately than to Mary, but the best scholars tend to believe that the Canticle is probably a later addition by Luke to his original Incarnation story, as a response to and a balance with the “Angelus Song” of Elizabeth which precedes it. It is likely that the Magnificat itself may originally have been composed by others in a Greek-speaking Jewish Christian community who identified themselves with the poor and powerless who were the remnant of the true Israel. Luke’s choice to include the hymn and to ascribe it to Saint Mary at the Visitation is a demonstration of his belief that the promises made to the Old Testament patriarchs are fulfilled finally (and only) in the birth of the Messiah – and that they are offered not only to all generations of the Jews, but to all people on earth.

In 1610, it was this Biblical account of the Visitation which moved the great Savoyard Bishop of Geneva, St. Francis de Sales, (with Madame Jane Frances de Chantál) to found the contemplative Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary – for women who felt drawn to a life of religious commitment, but who were not sufficiently young, robust, or free of family ties to bear the austerities of the traditional orders, or who were simply not attracted to the lukewarm religiosity of the older, lax orders. The new Order was devoted to the cultivation of humility, gentleness, and sisterly love, following an adapted Augustinian Rule. The story of Mary’s Visitation to Elizabeth involves no heroic or dramatic display, but hidden in the person of Mary, so too the Visitation community was to be known not for any visible works, but for living the hidden life of great interior intimacy with God and charitable love of one’s neighbor.

And it might be profitable for us, too, to consider our reaction to the hidden Lord in our own lives, to search for our own leap of joy when we discover Him come to us."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

An invitation to support THE FRESH AIR FUND

About The Fresh Air Fund

THE FRESH AIR FUND, an independent, not-for-profit agency, has provided free summer vacations to more than 1.7 million New York City children from low-income communities since 1877. Nearly 10,000 New York City children enjoy free Fresh Air Fund programs annually. In 2008, close to 5,000 children visited volunteer host families in suburbs and small town communities across 13 states from Virginia to Maine and Canada. 3,000 children also attended five Fresh Air camps on a 2,300-acre site in Fishkill, New York. The Fund’s year-round camping program serves an additional 2,000 young people each year.

Fresh Air Fund History

In 1877, the Reverend Willard Parsons, minister of a small rural parish in Sherman, Pennsylvania, asked members of his congregation to provide country vacations as volunteer host families for children from New York City tenements. This was the beginning of The Fresh Air Fund tradition. By 1884, Reverend Parsons was writing about The Fund for New York’s Herald Tribune, and the number of children served grew. In 2008, close to 10,000 New York City children experienced the joys of summertime in Friendly Towns and at five Fund camps in upstate New York.

Fresh Air Fund Children

Fresh Air children are boys and girls, six to 12 years old, who reside in low-income communities in New York City and are eager to experience the simple pleasures of life outside the city.

As one child says, "
I can’t wait to get on the bus every summer so I can see my family and go swimming and hiking!"

News Facts

Right now any gift you make to The Fresh Air Fund will be matched dollar for dollar by a group of generous donors! If you can give $25 that means $50 for inner-city children. $50 becomes $100!

But you must
make your donation by June 30th to take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!

Donate now!

Host a Child

Thanks to host families who open up their homes for one or two weeks each summer, children growing up in New York City’s toughest neighborhoods have experienced the joys of Fresh Air vacations.

More than 65% of all children are reinvited to stay with their host family, year after year.

Fresh Air Fund Host Families

There is no such thing as a "typical" host family. If you have room in your home - and your heart - to host a child, you could be one too.

The Fresh Air Fund is pleased to offer new banners and widgets for your blogs and websites!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Tireless Missionary Bishop of the Northwest

Six years after the War of Independence, on Christmas Eve in 1789, in the small up-state New York Hudson River valley town of Pleasant Valley, Jackson Kemper was born. His parents had fled New York City to escape a smallpox epidemic. His grandfather was an immigrant from Germany; his father, Daniel Kemper, from Canada, had been a colonel in the American Revolutionary army, serving as aide-de-camp to General George Washington at the battles of Germantown and Monmouth. His mother, Elizabeth Marius Kemper, was a descendant of well-known families of the Dutch New Amsterdam era.  The Kempers were members of Trinity Church, Wall Street, where Kemper was baptized by Bishop Benjamin Moore with the forename “David", which he dropped while in college.

Kemper entered Columbia College at the age of 15 and graduated as valedictorian of his class in 1809, after which he spent a year in theological training with Bishop Moore and The Rev. John Henry Hobart. Kemper was ordained deacon by Bishop William White two years later at the age of 21, and was priested in 1814.  He was immediately called as a curate at the United Parishes of Philadelphia, including historic Christ Church, where Bishop White was rector, in addition to being the Bishop of Pennsylvania. Kemper remained there for twenty years.

In 1812 and again in 1814 he was sent on “missionary tours” of western Pennsylvania, Virginia, and eastern Ohio, and in many of these places he was the first to hold liturgical services. These missionary trips were the only “vacations” Kemper ever took during his entire ministry.

In 1816 Jackson Kemper married Jerusha Lyman, who died only two years later. In 1819 he married Ann Relf, daughter of a wealthy family of Philadelphia, who bore him a daughter and two sons. In 1831, at Ann's urging, Kemper accepted a call as rector of Saint Paul’s Church, Norwalk, CT, only to lose his second wife, Ann, to death a year later.

In the early 1800’s, the Episcopal Church in America was struggling out of its infancy and beginning to consider its responsibilities for mission in the newly developing nation. In 1820 the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society was constituted. Jackson Kemper was one of the original patrons of the society, and traveled widely to visit and evaluate
missionary efforts. 

The General Convention of the Episcopal Church of 1835 decided to appoint bishops to direct the Church's future
missionary work in the expanding west. Among them, Kemper, with missionary experience in western Pennsylvania, Virginia, and eastern Ohio, was elected unanimously as the first Missionary Bishop in the Episcopal Church: with responsibility for what now comprises the states of Indiana and Missouri. His jurisdiction eventually included what are now the states of Indiana, Missouri, Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota.

Jackson Kemper was consecrated bishop on September 25, 1835 at Saint Peter’s Church, Philadelphia. Bishops
William White, Richard Channing Moore, and Philander Chase served as consecrators.  New Jersey Bishop George Washington Doane, “
the rankest Puseyite in the country”, as he'd been called, preached at the consecration.  The
final words of his sermon were: "
Go, bear before a ruined world the Savior's bleeding Cross. Go, feed with the bread from heaven the Savior's hungering Church. Go, thrice-beloved, go, and God the Lord go with you!"

With these words ringing in his ears, and leaving his three children with his mother-in-law in Philadelphia, Bishop Kemper set out immediately, taking up residence in Missouri, where he became nominal rector of Christ Church, Saint Louis. In the winter of 1835 he supplied in Illinois for Bishop Chase, who was in England. Kemper soon discovered that men from what was then called “the West” were not at all inclined, and often couldn't afford, to return to the East Coast for a theological education.  Two years after his arrival, in 1837, the bishop founded a college just outside of Saint Louis, which friends in his absence named “Kemper College”. This made the Kemper so self-conscious and embarrassed to appeal for funds for the school, that the college eventually closed eight years later for lack of financial support.

In 1838, Kemper was formally made bishop of the entire Northwest Territory, later the states of Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas. At the request of Bishop Otey who was disabled by illness, Kemper also made an episcopal visitation of all the states along the Mississippi, the Gulf Coast, and the southern Atlantic Coast.

In the same year, he was chosen as bishop of Maryland in a strongly contested and chaotic election.  Having given the call serious consideration, he nevertheless declined to accept. His immediate concern was “inventing” a new model of episcopacy, one that had never been practiced by an Anglican bishop anywhere before. There were few, if any,  precedents on which to depend or to look to for guidance. Kemper called himself the “dray horse” of the Church, finding himself separated so much from his loving family who remained in the East.   He often saw them only on
Christmas: the one day out of the year which he reserved for himself.

Bishop Kemper travelled by water whenever possible, but he often had to resort to stagecoach or horseback. He carried all his possessions in his saddlebags: vestments, Bible, Prayer Book, chalice and paten, and personal items.

In 1846 Kemper moved his residence to a house only a half-mile from Nashotah House in Wisconsin.  No longer a homeless vagabond, he was now able to bring his two unmarried sisters and his daughter to live with him. His son Lewis was by then a student at Nashotah House, preparing for ordination.

Bishop Kemper’s life as a missionary is almost inconceivable to us today. He traveled from the shores of Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico: by steamboat, on horseback, by stagecoach, and often on foot. He slept in the open or on the hard floor of a remote hunter’s cabin or in an Indian wigwam. In one instance, he traveled for four days in order to confirm a young person in northern Wisconsin. He organized six dioceses, consecrated nearly a hundred churches, ordained over two hundred priests and deacons, and confirmed almost 10,000 souls. He lobbied,  unsuccessfully, in the East for a German translation of the
Book of Common Prayer to use in his ministry to German immigrants.  Pleased with the Winnebago mission at Oneida in Wisconsin, he pressed for further work with Native Americans: “…why should there not be a hundred similar congregations among the red race of this country?” Bishop Kemper later confirmed five people of the Ojibwe nation, among them John Anmegahbowk Johnson, now commemorated on June 12 in the Episcopal Church's liturgical calendar as Enmegahbowh, the first Native American Episcopal priest.

In the summer of 1847, while visiting parishes in Indiana, he was struck down with an attack of malaria so serious that his physician insisted he return to the East immediately for treatment.  In November, however, he was back in Wisconsin to resume his work once again. In the very hot summer of 1856, on a trip to Nebraska and Kansas, through lack of fresh and wholesome food, Bishop Kemper contracted land scurvy, and, at 67, was afterwards never as strong or as well as before. From then on he was subject to what his daughter described as “lost turns”: a feeling of vagueness, vertigo, and temporary loss of consciousness.

In 1847 he was elected to be first Bishop of the new Diocese of Wisconsin, but he declined. Later, in 1859, after Kemper had retired from missionary work, he was immediately elected for the second time to the Diocese of Wisconsin, and this time he accepted, remaining in that office until his death.  He had finally been restored to his family who had moved west to be with him.

During the last ten years of his life, Bishop Kemper found himself embroiled in the growing churchmanship battles. The Catholic revival in the Episcopal Church, in which Kemper had taken a strong part, had begun to take on an Anglo-Catholic and ritualistic color, and Kemper was somewhat bewildered by it all. In 1867, concerned over the growing ritualism, he and two other bishops drafted a Declaration on Ritualism which stated in part, “…We therefore consider that in this particular National Church any attempt to introduce into the public worship of Almighty God usages that have never been known, such as the use of incense, and the burning of lights in the order for Holy Communion; reverences to the Holy table or to the elements thereon;…the adoption of clerical habits hitherto unknown…is an innovation which violates the discipline of the Church.”  Kemper's group invited other bishops to sign the declaration, and eventually twenty-eight bishops did so.

During the Civil War, almost alone among the Episcopal bishops, Jackson Kemper chose not to speak about or promote the war. Many of his tiny mission stations suffered when the men were called up to service. Nashotah House seniors were threatened with the draft, and Kemper decided that, if necessary, he would ordain them in order to exempt them from military service. At the end of the war, he did compose a prayer of gratitude that was used throughout his jurisdictions, but he never gave in to national chauvinism or jingoistic patriotism. 

Some time in 1868, Kemper recounted that he happened to put his hand over one eye and was shocked to discover that the sight in the other eye was entirely gone. From then on, he gave up trying to read small print, and often had his family read to him. His memory of the middle part of his life began to be obscured, though memories of childhood and
early ministry came back clearly.

During these years, James DeKoven described the aging bishop thus: “Snow white are his locks [see photo above], and his face fair and beautiful. If ever there was a saint on earth or shall be in heaven it is he—a long life of the most simple-minded, pure-hearted missionary labor is now drawing to its close… He comes often to the college and stops a day or so, and his presence is a blessing.

Kemper lived through his eightieth birthday, and into 1870, but took to his bed on May 18. Two days later, Fr. DeKoven visited him and in leaving, begged the bishop’s blessing.  The old man began to ramble into the prayers of the ordination service. The next day he fell into a coma, and died three days later, on Tuesday, May 24.

Six bishops travelled from as far as Kentucky for his funeral at Nashotah House chapel and his burial in the seminary cemetery [see photo above]. Seventy clergy and two thousand lay people attended.  Jackson Kemper had been missionary bishop of a jurisdiction greater than any since the days of the Apostles. He had traveled more than 300,000
miles during the 35 years of his episcopate: more than St. Paul himself.  Bishop Kemper was eulogized in a sermon preached in 1882 by the Rev. Professor William Adams of Nashotah House: “[Bishop Kemper]
has always seemed to me to have been chosen and formed by the decree and power of God, for just such work as he had to do. He was kind-hearted and social in all his feelings; beneficent in the highest degree; sympathizing evermore with the sick and sorrowing. He was sweet in temper and pleasant in speech, and at the same time he was full of the weightiest business ability and of far-reaching wide-thoughted missionary plans. If there was ever a man framed and adapted for the work he had to do in this world, for the people among whom he had to labor, and also for the peculiar state of the country which was to be the sphere of his enterprise, it was Bishop Kemper, the Missionary Bishop of the Church in this region of the Northwest… A spotless, stainless, loving-hearted Bishop of the Church!” Bishop Talbot of Indiana summed it up well when he wrote: “No bishop in the line of our American episcopate has succeeded in concentrating upon himself more entirely than he, the love and veneration of the Church.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

From Angles To Angels


St Augustine's Abbey was a Benedictine abbey in Canterbury

Early history

When the future Pope Gregory the Great was still a monk in Rome, he saw, one day in the marketplace,  some young blond slaves for sale.  Inquiring about them, he was told that they were Angli, or “
Angles” from Britain, He replied: “That would be right, for they have angelic faces, and it would be proper that such as these be companions with the angels in heaven”. When he learned that they were heathens, he lamented that “those who were so comely on the outside should have none of God’s grace within”. The experience so moved Gregory that he asked Pope Benedict I to send missionaries to preach Christianity in Britain, offering himself first. The Pope and Gregory's abbot accepted his offer, and he set out quietly for Britain with a few monks from his monastery.  The people of Rome, hearing that their former chief magistrate and advocate, Gregory, had left, raised such a commotion so that the pope sent messengers after Gregory calling him and his company back to Rome.

Fifteen years later, after he'd been elected Pope, Gregory did not forget England. In 595, he ordered his administrator in Gaul to purchase English slave-boys of 17 or 18, to be raised in Christian monasteries. The next year, he chose some 30 monks from his own monastery of Saint Andrew to go to England, among them the near-sighted librarian, Prior Augustine, whom he named as leader of the group.

In April, 597, Saint Augustine arrived in England, on the Isle of Thanet, on what might nowadays be called a revival mission. The language, among other things, proved to be a huge barrier.  The King of Kent at this time was Ethelbert, who was already aware of Christianity, as husband, since 589, to a Frankish Christian woman, Berta, who had brought her chaplain, Lúidhard, with her. Nevertheless, he was somewhat leery of these foreigners, actually meeting with them for the first time in an open field, fearing that they might cast a spell on him in an enclosed setting.  Whether or not his spouse influenced him, he provided for them a house near the market gate in his capital city of Cantwárabúrg (the modern “Canterbury”), and gave them the use of an old church dedicated to St. Martin that stood just east of the city and had been left by the Britons.  One of the main purposes of the future abbey was to serve as a burial place for the Kings of Kent and the Archbishops of Canterbury. In 978 a new larger building was dedicated by Archbishop Dunstan, to the Saints Peter, Paul, and Augustine.

The monks lived the full monastic life, witnessing to Christ mainly by their presence and piety. They spoke of the Savior to all who would hear. Finally, on June 2, 597, the eve of Pentecost, King Ethelbert abandoned his cautious attitude and was baptized. Immediately afterward, at Pope Gregory's instruction, Augustine traveled to Arles in France where he was consecrated Archbishop of the English. When he returned he found many more of the English people ready to follow their king by becoming Christians. Consequently, at Christmas that year, according to information in one of Pope Gregory’s letters, Augustine’s monks baptized as many as 10,000 converts.

In 598, Augustine sent two of his monks – Laurence and Peter – back to Rome to report on the mission. They returned in the year 600, bringing the archbishop's pallium for Augustine from the Pope, a fresh group of missionaries, and “all things needed for divine worship – sacred vessels, altar cloths, furnishings for churches, vestments for clergy, relics, and many books”. Gregory also sent practical instructions, declaring that pagan temples were not be destroyed, but were to be purified and used for Christian worship, that local customs should be retained as far as possible, with feasts of saints being substituted for heathen festivals.

Augustine assisted King Ethelbert in drafting the earliest code of Anglo-Saxon laws which survives today:  the earliest surviving piece of English prose. The Archbishop also founded a school at Canterbury and, drawing on his past experience, a substantial library.  

Augustine’s last years were spent in consolidating the faith in Kent, and establishing episcopal dioceses in London, where he appointed Mellítus bishop, in Rochester, which went to Justus, and in York, for which he consecrated Paulínus.  About seven years after his arrival in England, Augustine, aware that his death was approaching, consecrated Laurence to be his successor as Archbishop of Canterbury.  Augustine died peacefully on May 26, 605.

12th-16th century

By 1100 all remains of the original Anglo Saxon building had disappeared under a massive romanesque edifice, to which an Almonry was added in 1154. Apart from some rebuilding work in 1168 as a result of a fire, the rest of the 12th century passed fairly quietly at St. Augustine's Abbey. However from about 1250 onwards the abbey was once again alive with building work. The cloister, lavatorium, and kitchen were totally rebuilt and a grand new abbot's lodging was built. The range was also extended to provide a great hall.

A new crenellated Great Gate was built in 1309 completing the Inner Court. On the north side the monks were able to take in much more land, which provided space for a new outer court with cellarer's range, brewhouse, bakehouse, and in 1320 a new walled vineyard. There was also expansion on the east side of the abbey where a series of lodgings were built along with a walled cellarer's garden. An earthquake in 1382 meant more building work, and in 1390 the gatehouse which still survives was built. The last thing to be built was a Lady Chapel, to the east of the church. By 1500 the abbey covered a very large area, and its library contained in excess of 2000 volumes, a staggering number for that time. Many of these books would have been produced in the abbey's own scriptorium.


In 1535, Henry VIII dissolved all monasteries found to have an annual income less than £100. St. Augustine's survived this first round of closures, as its income was found to be £1733. But on July 30, 1538, the abbey's fate was sealed when it fell to the dissolution by the king. The abbey was systematically dismantled over the next fifteen years, although part of the site was converted to a palace, ready for the arrival of Anne of Cleves, from France.

Modern history

The palace was leased to a succession of nobles, and in the early 1600s was in the possession of Edward Lord Wotton, who employed John Tradescant the Elder, to lay out formal gardens around it. The palace is thought to have survived until a great storm in 1703, which certainly caused great damage to the already ruinous structure of the abbey.

Now a World Heritage Site, the ruins of this important monastic foundation built by Saint Augustine are in the care of English Heritage. Today the ruin precincts cover a substantial area east of Canterbury Cathedral. In fact, in its heyday, the church rivalled the nearby cathedral in size.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Venerable Bede of Jarrow (c. 673-735)

Vedi oltre fiammeggiar l’ardente spiro
d’Isidoro, di Beda e di Riccardo,
che a considerar fu più che viro.

See farther onward flame the burning breath
Of Isidore, of Bede, and of Richard
Who was in contemplation more than man.

Thus did Dante Alighieri immortalize Venerable Bede in his Paradiso, Canto X:130, the only Englishman to have thus been honored by the great Italian poet.

Bede was placed in the monastery for training as a very young child.   Throughout his life he was utterly gentle, wholly devoted to his monastic life, humble, but with a razor-sharp mind and a generous spirit. He never involved himself in politics or in controversy, did not wander about, and his holiness and wisdom came to be celebrated across Europe, both before and after his death. 

Bede’s home was at Wearmouth, on the east coast of Britain, near the mouth of the River Tyne. He was born literally on the same lands which were later given by the king to build the monastery which Bede entered at the age of seven. From the time of his birth until his death at the age of sixty-two, he never traveled further than fifty or sixty miles from his place of birth. Even when he received an invitation from the Pope himself to visit Rome, he apparently never left his monastic home.

Bede was raised and trained in the monastery at Jarrow mainly by two abbots: Benedict Biscop and Ceolfrid. Abbot
Benedict, who founded the monastery, was of noble birth and of such wide learning and culture that he later had tremendous influence on the entire Church in England. He was a Greek and Latin scholar who taught theology, astronomy, art, and music. He brought back vestments and treasured furnishings for the monastery church
whenever he travelled to Rome and the Continent. He imported stone-masons and glaziers from Gaul so they could build his monastery of stone and teach their trades to the English. He even brought John the Arch-Cantor from Saint Peter’s in Rome to teach his monks the liturgical chant – something that affected the whole future of English
church music.

So Bede was raised in what was undoubtedly the finest ecclesiastical environment in the England of his day. Given the fact that Abbot Ceolfrid presented him for ordination as a deacon at the age of nineteen, apparently with special permission, (25 was the official minimal canonical age), Bede himself must have been recognized as exceptional in his own learning and his piety.   He was ordained deacon, and was priested eleven years later by Bishop John of Hexham (known to later years as Saint John of Beverley). Bede himself writes that “from the time of my receiving the priesthood until my fifty-ninth year, I…worked both for my own profit and that of my brethren, to compile extracts from the works of the venerable Fathers on holy scripture, and to make commentaries on their meaning and interpretation.” 

We've been gifted with an eyewitness account of Bede’s death, written by St. Cuthbert, one of Bede’s students, whose shrine is also at Durham Cathedral, as is Bede's:  “…on the Tuesday before our Lord’s Ascension his breathing became increasingly labored, and his feet began to swell. Despite this he continued cheerfully to teach and dictate [his translation of John’s Gospel] all day, saying from time to time, ‘Learn quickly. I do not know how long I can continue, for my Lord may call me in a short while.’…The next day, Wednesday, he told us many edifying things and passed his last day happily until evening. Then the lad [who was taking his dictation] said, ‘Dear master, there is one sentence still unfinished!’ ‘Very well,’ he replied, ‘write it down.’ After a short while the lad said, ‘Now it is finished.’ ‘You have spoken truly,’ he replied, ‘It is well finished. Now raise my head in your hands, for it would give me great joy to sit facing the holy place where I used to pray, so that I may sit and call on my Father.’ And thus on the floor of his cell he chanted ‘Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit’, and breathed his last.
When news of his death reached the missionary Saint Boniface, he wrote: “The candle of the Church, lit by the Holy
Spirit, has been extinguished.

Bede’s body was laid to rest in his monastery church, but about the year 1020, a Durham monk stole the relics and brought them secretly to Durham where they were placed in the tomb along with the remains of Saint Cuthbert. In
1370, they were translated to a splendid new tomb in the Galilee Chapel of Durham Cathedral where they rest to this
day. [
See photo above]

Finally, legend has it that the monk who was composing the inscription for Bede’s tomb was at a loss for a word
to fill out the couplet:

Haec sunt in fossa
This grave contains
Bedae - blank - ossa
- blank - Bede’s remains.

When he awoke the next morning, he found that an angel had filled in the blank with the word “Venerable”.

Haec sunt in fossa
Bedae venerabilis ossa

This grave contains
the venerable Bede's remains.

Remembering on Memorial Day

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and

keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and 

abroad, living and departed. Defend them day by day with your 

heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; 

give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant

them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be;

through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Which Way Is "Up"?

(The Ascension, Giotto)

In the first book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus did and taught from the beginning 2until the day when he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen. 3After his suffering he presented himself alive to them by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over the course of forty days and speaking about the kingdom of God. 4While staying* with them, he ordered them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father. ‘This’, he said, ‘is what you have heard from me; 5for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with* the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’
6 So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ 7He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ 9When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’  (Acts 1:1-11)

The first chapter of Acts challenges us to stand among the witnesses to the Ascension and register their shock when confronted by the implication of this Christ-event.

The reading from Acts bridges the gap between the Resurrection of Jesus and the beginning of what we now know as the Church.  Luke, in both his Gospel and Acts, writes from the vantage point of third-generation Christianity.  Jesus and the Apostles are figures of the past.  Jesus' life is what he began to do and teach.  What the disciples do and teach is what Jesus does and teaches after his ascension.  The tie is made through the commandment which he gave and through the teaching he did "for forty days".

In Acts 1 the forty days are the proper time for full and complete teaching to take place.  A much later rabbinic tradition suggests that teaching and learning something forty times makes the student a competent teacher.  Jesus' teaching about "the reign of God" is the teaching of the resurrected Christ, given by the Holy Spirit.  Thus the disciples, properly equipped, continue Jesus' teaching.  After forty days Jesus could leave because his teaching was clear.

It's not unreasonable for the disciples to "stand looking into heaven" on Ascension Day.  Leaving aside cosmological speculation about the direction in which heaven is, heaven for these disciples is quite simply that "space" (?!) into which Christ has disappeared from their sight, that "place" (?!) where God is present in a holy resplendence and majesty invisible to human sight.  To gaze after the vanished Lord is a touching expression of faith, hope, and love anchored in Jesus.  Where else would the disciples now fix their gaze?

But the question, "Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?", shatters any nostalgic or otherworldly reveries. Two heralds redirect the disciples from mourning a loss to celebrating a victorious presence.  In Acts it is the presence of the ascended Lord through the promised Spirit.  Just as the "forty days" of verse 3 confirm to the disciples the identity of the risen Lord with the earthly Jesus, the gift of the Holy Spirit will empower them to bear witness to the ascended Lord "in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.

Many who hold to a scientific view of the universe might consider the ascension of Jesus peculiarly laughable, and therefore void of any contemporary meaning.  One of the most certain achieved results of the science of cosmology is that nobody knows which way is up.  Any direction in which you choose to point, from any spot on this spinning and orbiting globe, has as much right as any other to be called "up" or "down".  One searches the starry heavens in vain for any indication that there's any intersection on any grid in the space/time continuum that might be identified as the place of God's dwelling.

Yet this scientific fact drives us back to the Scripture texts and makes us wonder whether the ancient biblical view of the universe is quite as naive and unimaginative as many contemporary people like to assume.  Genesis 1 does indeed say that God "created the heavens and the earth": but read it carefully.  There's not the slightest hint in this ancient view of the universe that God's dwelling is more nearly associated with any part of God's good creation than with any other part of it.  In that sense, God is literally equidistant from everything that God has made and, therefore, equiproximate as well.

This isn't to say that Old and New Testament people held modern rather than primitive ideas about the universe.  But it is to say that the biblical idea of "which way is up" doesn't depend on any cosmological speculations.  "Up" in the biblical sense is defined as the Godward direction, that way which points toward the holy will and the holy way of God in human affairs.  The problem in the Bible is never to locate God's place: the problem is to recognize the will and the way of God and to move in that direction.

So Ascension faith does saddle us Easter Christians with the rather embarrassing claim of knowing which way is up! The Ascension of the risen Christ to "sit at the right hand of God the Father" means that the will and the way of God disclosed in Jesus on earth is like the needle of a cosmic compass that always points straight up.  It points directly Godward, to the reign and the power and the glory which transcend all creation.  But as in all the Bible, that Godward direction, for each of God's people and for all of us together, begins where we are and leads us first of all into the world of men and women with whom and for whom Jesus lived and died.

The appropriate direction in which the disciples and we are to look, therefore, isn't toward heaven but toward the earth, where the Spirit-empowered work of witness to the ascended Lord is to be carried out.  In no sense does the Ascension mean that Christ has abandoned us or this world.  The date at which Christ will "restore the kingdom to Israel" isn't the proper concern of the disciples or of us.  It's our job, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to bear witness to the risen and ascended Lord here and now, in the time between.

But this work of witness is to be lived out in the sure confidence that, in God's time, the utterly victorious rule of God on earth will come.  We've not yet seen the reign of God, but we have seen the One who brings God's reign to our world. Witness to the crucified, risen, and ascended Lord, here and now, is the proper mode of hope that "this Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven".  By the present power of the Holy Spirit, the ultimate confidence of us who are Jesus' disciples is in the present lordship of the ascended One, and not in the "far-off divine event" of his victorious appearing.

(Adapted from an article in Proclamation, Year B, 1988)

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Sweet Father Dunstan"

(The Bodleian library at Oxford has a Glastonbury book, ordered by Dunstan to be written, and a drawn portrait of Dunstan prostrate at the feet of Christ, probably a self-portrait.)

Dunstan of Canterbury
c. 909/10 – 988

Who is the special patron of goldsmiths, jewelers, and locksmiths??

Good guess, if you said Dunstan of Canterbury!

Now a harder question: why is he their patron?? Well, in his earlier life, while living at Glastonbury Abbey in a hermitage that was five feet long by two-and-a-half feet wide, adjoining a tiny oratory dedicated to the Mother of God, Dunstan, then an ordinary monk, began his practice of handwork: making bells, crosses, vials, censers, and sacred vestments. Among other things, he also learned to draw, to paint, to copy and illuminate books, and to play the harp, as well as to compose ecclesiastical music. Dunstan is often artistically depicted as holding the devil by the nose with a pair of tongs – based on a legend that the devil tried to tempt him once when he was working in his blacksmith shop, and Dunstan responded with the tool that was handiest! Another story has it that Dunstan nailed a horseshoe to the Devil's hoof when he was asked to re-shoe the Devil's horse, thus causing the Devil great pain. Dunstan only agreed to remove the shoe and release the Devil after he promised never to enter a place where a horseshoe is over the door. This is claimed, true or not, as the origin of the lucky horseshoe.

St. Dunstan has been called “
the most famous of all the Anglo-Saxon saints”. Given what he went through in his almost 80 years of life, it seems he deserved the title. To mention only the highlights, Dunstan was suspected of sorcery, exiled by two kings, accused of treason, thrown into a cesspool, and was suspected of having leprosy. Amazingly, he
somehow survived the convoluted entanglements of kings and courtiers, politics and religion.

Born near Glastonbury, around 909, to Heorstan and Cynethryth, Dunstan was the son of a noble family closely related to the royal house. He wasn’t badly connected in Church circles either, his uncle, Athelm, being the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan was educated by Irish monastic scholars, resident at Glastonbury, and who, according to him, were “
excellent masters of the sciences”. Through the recommendation of his uncle, the Archbishop, he was sent to the court of King Athelstan, where he became the king’s favorite. Some jealous courtiers, who also probably couldn’t carry a tune in a wet paper bag, and who overheard Dunstan practicing Church chant, accused him of practicing incantations and wizardry, and so the king expelled Dunstan from the court. As he was leaving, his enemies further vented their jealous spite by capturing him and throwing him into a cesspool. Guess they really didn’t like his chanting!

Dunstan fled to the protection of the Bishop of Winchester, another of his uncles (the bishop of Wells was another one) who advised him to take religious vows. Dunstan held off for a time, thinking first of getting married and then suffering from a skin ailment which he believed to be leprosy. When he recovered from the disorder, he took it as a sign from God, arranged to enter the monastery at Glastonbury, received the habit, and was ordained deacon and priest by his uncle.

In 940, King Edmund succeeded to the crown. Since his palace at Cheddar was only nine miles from Glastonbury, the new king came to know Dunstan. Observing his obvious sanctity, Edmund called Dunstan back to court, and when the previous abbot died, the king named Dunstan the abbot of Glastonbury in 943. It was the major turning point in the revival of monastic life in England after the ravages of the Vikings. Dunstan introduced the Rule of Saint Benedict at Glastonbury, reconstructed the buildings, restored the church, and brought new life to Glastonbury. His example of good monastic discipline soon spread from Glastonbury to other monasteries across England where it was picked up by other reformers.

After a brief reign, King Edmund was treacherously murdered, and he was followed on the throne by his brother, Edred, who made Dunstan his chief advisor. In that position Dunstan continued his reforms of the local clergy and attempted to conciliate the remaining Danish element in the society, thus making enemies in high places.

Edred died five years later and was succeeded by his dissolute, debauched teenaged nephew, Edwy, who, finding it hard to control his raging hormones even on the day of his coronation, actually left the royal banquet for a tryst with his concubine. Abbot Dunstan followed him and sternly reprimanded his unseemly conduct on the spot. Well,
that, of course, went down real well with the self-absorbed young king! In no time at all, in league with Dunstan’s enemies, Edwy saw to it that Dunstan’s property was confiscated and that Dunstan himself was exiled on an extended vacation to Flanders. In the meantime, King Edwy wreaked havoc on all the abbeys of England that had escaped the devastation of the Danes, excepting only Glastonbury and Abingdon.

Predictably, after a year, rebellion broke out in England and the north and east of the country threw off Edwy’s yoke and chose his brother, Edgar, as their ruler. King Edgar immediately recalled Dunstan, made him Bishop of Worcester. Edwy’s hard-and-fast living must’ve caught up with him because he died in 959 at the age of 20. The kingdom was reunited under Edgar who made Dunstan was the Archbishop of Canterbury and papal legate in England. Dunstan is said to have given away all his travel money to the poor on his way to Rome to receive the archiepiscopal pallium, and thereupon had to beg his own way to Rome! 

Back in England, Dunstan again began restoring all the monasteries in England that had been damaged, and founded new ones. He also worked to reform the clergy, many of whom had followed Edwy’s example in living worldly and scandalous lives. If the legends surrounding Dunstan are accurate, many of the clergy learned not to mess with the holy bishop. It’s said that when some of the clergy whom Dunstan had disciplined were scheming to do him evil, a crucifix in their meeting room spoke the words: “Dunstan hath the right, and therefore trouble him no more for that matter.” Another time, when they gathered and planned to kill Dunstan, suddenly all the beams of the house slid out of their sockets and the building collapsed, killing everyone except Dunstan.

Prominent officials, as well as clergy, were subject to Dunstan’s discipline. Even King Edgar got called on the carpet for deflowering (great word!) a virgin who had intended to enter a convent, and was wise enough to submit to Dunstan’s spiritual authority. Edgar’s penance was to not wear his crown for seven years, to fast twice a week, to give alms to the poor, and to erect a nunnery in reparation for his sin. Ouch! The king humbly bore these humiliations, and when the time was up, Dunstan, in a public assembly, once more set the crown on Edgar’s head, and remained the king’s most trusted minister. After Edgar died and his son, Edward the martyr, became king for a short time, Dunstan remained as prime minister. Dunstan, in crowning Edward’s halfbrother, Ethelred, in 970, foretold the calamities that would mark his reign.

Dunstan finally left politics and returned to Canterbury where he lived a quiet, scholarly life. He loved to teach the Cathedral School students and to share with them stories of his many experiences. With great affection for him, for many years after his death the Canterbury schoolboys would pray to “
sweet Father Dunstan” when threatened with corporal punishment!

On the feast of the Ascension in 988, the aged archbishop, though seriously ill, celebrated Mass, preached three times to his people, and announced to them his impending death. That afternoon he went to the cathedral and chose a place for his burial. Two days later on Saturday, May 19, 988, having received the last rites and Communion, he died peacefully in his bed. He was buried beside the high altar in Canterbury Cathedral.