Friday, July 30, 2010

William Wilberforce & Anthony Ashley-Cooper: Witnesses for Social Justice

Just and eternal God, we give you thank for the stalwart faith
and persistence of your servants William Wilberforce and
Anthony Ashley-Cooper, who, undeterred by opposition
and failure, held fast to a vision of justice in which no child
of yours might suffer in enforced servitude and misery.
Grant  that we, drawn by that same Gospel vision, may persevere
in serving the common good and caring for those who have been
cast down, that they may be raised up through Jesus Christ. Amen.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

SS. Martha, Mary & Lazarus of Bethany

Martha, the homemaker: bustling about, "busy about many things". Mary, the contemplative, content to sit at Jesus' feet and learn, choosing "the better part". Lazarus, a "resurrection billboard", given a second chance at life.

A family. Probably the closest to a family which Jesus had during his adult ministry.

"We need to have people who mean something to us, people to whom we can turn, knowing that being them is coming home." (Bernard Cooke) 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A Kind of Church Leader We Could Use Today

Blessed William Reed Huntington (1838-1909): Episcopal priest, husband, father, practical theologian, writer, secretary of the 1892 Book of Common Prayer revision, nominee for bishop in 8 dioceses (all of which he declined), liturgical designer, and ecumenicist (having developed the four principles of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral, one of the Episcopal Church's most important historical documents), once quipped: "...If you map out four distinct parties [in the Church], and name them ritualistic, high, low, and broad, I am a good deal in doubt where I properly belong..."

Nevertheless, he was an eloquent proponent of oneness within the Episcopal Church, as well as of oneness among the various Christian denominations.

Among his memorable statements:  "Antagonisms there must always be in the Church, but organized antagonisms ought as far as be avoided." A profoundly wise bit of advice which it would be well for all involved in the recent and current disagreements within the Anglican Communion to take to heart.

His statement, from his book The Church Idea (1870), is still terribly relevant to the life of the Episcopal Church generally, and to that of each of its parishes and missions: "...If our whole ambition as Anglicans in America be to continue a small, but eminently respectable body of Christians, and to offer a refuge to people of refinement and sensibility, who are shocked by the irreverences they are apt to encounter elsewhere; in a word, if we care to be only a countercheck and not a force in society; then let us say as much in plain terms, and frankly renounce any and all claim to Catholicity. We have only, in such a case, to wrap the robe of our dignity about us, and walk quietly along in seclusion no one will take much trouble to disturb. Thus may we be a Church in name, and a sect in deed. But if we aim at something nobler than this, if we would have our Communion become national in very truth—in other words, if we would bring the Church of Christ into the closest possible sympathy with the throbbing, sorrowing, sinning, repenting, aspiring heart of this great people—then let us press our reasonable claims to be the reconciler of a divided household, not in a spirit of arrogance (which ill befits those who best possessions have come to them by inheritance), but with affectionate earnestness and an intelligent zeal."

"Fervent love" for the Church and its mission in the world, and "unflagging faith" in God's promises are two of Huntington's qualities mentioned in the collect for his feast day today: worthy ideals for us who, in Baptism, bear the name of Christ.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Let's Hear It For the Grandparents!

Today's feast of SS. Anna and Joachim, parents of  Mary and grandparents of Our Lord, is a good occasion to celebrate all of us grandparents! We know nothing of Jesus' grandparents from Scripture, and there's no indication as to whether they were alive or deceased at the time he lived. I'd like to think that they were around long enough for him to get to know them and for them to spoil him silly as I do my own grandchild! Surely we can presume that they loved their own daughter, Mary, and saw to it that she was raised as an intelligent and good Jewish girl. She certainly turned out to be an exemplary woman, and Scripture does attest to that. Whatever lessons Anna and Joachim taught Mary certainly equipped her well for the role God chose for her in the economy of salvation. Thanks be to God for Anna and Joachim! And thanks be to God for all of us grandparents! May we continue to be creditable examples to our children and grandchildren.

Friday, July 23, 2010

St. John Cassian (c. 360-433)

Speaking of the early Egyptian Fathers of the desert whom he and his friend, Germanus, interviewed regarding the monastic life, Cassian says: "...Thanks to them, they who have established themselves in the vastest solitude and are separated from the companionship of all mortal beings, thereby possessing spiritual enlightenment, contemplate and proclaim things that will perhaps seem impossible to those who are unpracticed and ignorant by reason of their condition and their mediocre behavior. In this regard, however, if anyone wishes to give a true opinion and desires to see whether these things can be fulfilled, let him first hasten to seize upon their chosen orientation with similar zeal and by a similar way of life. Only then he realize that what seemed beyond human capacity is not only possible but even most sweet..." (Introduction to The Conferences)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Mary Magdalene and the Red Egg

A traditional pious legend passed down in the Eastern Church holds that St. Mary Magdalene was bringing cooked eggs to share with the other women at the tomb of Jesus. The eggs in her basket miraculously turned brilliant red when she beheld the Risen Christ. The egg is taken to represent the  boulder over the entrance to the tomb of Jesus.

Another common legend talks about St. Mary Magdalene's role as an evangelist, helping to spread the Gospel. It says that after Jesus' Ascension, Mary travelled to visit the Emperor Tiberius in Rome and greeted him with: “Christ has risen” [a traditional Orthodox Easter greeting, also adopted by many Christians]; whereupon he pointed to an egg on his table and quipped, “Christ has no more risen than that egg is red.” The egg, it is said, immediately turned blood red.

We may rightly call Mary Magdalene the "first Apostle", in view of Bishop Hippolytus of Rome's (2nd-3rd century) assigning her the title of "apostle of the apostles" and the "new Eve", because of her announcement of Christ's Resurrection to the Apostles, as well as the Eastern Church's longstanding acceptance of her as one of them.  History has, unfortunately, erroneously confused St. Mary Magdalene with the unnamed penitent woman in Mark 14 and Luke 7, as well as with St, Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus: all separate Marys whom she certainly outdistances in popularity.

In the collect for St. Mary Magdalene's feast we acknowledge that Mary was called "to be a witness of [Christ's] resurrection", and we pray for God's favor, like Mary Magdalene, to "know You in the power of his unending life".

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Pioneers of Justice

O God, whose Spirit guides us into all truth and makes us free:
Strengthen and sustain us as you did your servants Amelia, Sojourner
Harriet, and Elizabeth. Give us vision and courage to stand
against oppression and injustice and all that works against the glorious liberty
to which you call all your children; through Jesus Christ our Savior,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Macrina: The "Great Sister"

St. Macrina the Younger (c. 327-379), as distinguished from her maternal grandmother, Macrina, was the eldest of ten children and was part of the third generation of an illustrious, gifted and courageous Christian family. Among her brothers were St. Basil of Caesarea, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and Peter of Sebaste. According to Gregory's account of her life and death, Macrina was obviously the "alpha" sibling, "the Teacher",  to whom her brothers came for advice, a wise and mature woman from her young adulthood. She'd been engaged early on to a young lawyer, but when her fiancé died suddenly, she consecrated her life to God, encouraged her brothers in their vocations as monks and priests, and later as bishops, and helped form a monastic community of women along with her mother and abbess, Emmelia, whom she herself succeeded as abbess. Gregory described her as both beautiful and brilliant. From Gregory's account, it's obvious how deeply he loved and respected his unusual sister.

Gregory of Nyssa had barely recovered from the untimely death of his brother, Basil the Great, at age 50, when, nine months later, word came that Macrina had fallen seriously ill.  He hadn't seen her for eight years, so it was an emotional reunion.  Gregory's own words describe it best:

"...But when I came to the actual place, rumor had already announced my arrival to the brotherhood.
Then the whole company of the men came streaming out to meet us from their apartments...But the band of virgins on the women's side modestly waited in the church for us to arrive. But when the prayers and the blessing were over, and the women, after reverently inclining their head for the blessing, retired to their own apartments, none of them were left with us. I guessed the explanation, that the abbess was not with them.

A man led me to the house in which was my great sister, and opened the door. Then I entered that holy
dwelling. I found her already terribly afflicted with weakness. she was lying not on a bed or couch,
but on the floor; a sack had been spread on a board, and another board propped up her head, so
contrived as to act as a pillow, supporting the sinews of the neck in slanting fashion, and holding up
the neck comfortably. Now when she saw me near the door she raised herself on her elbow but could
not come to meet me, her strength being already drained by fever. But by putting her hands on the
floor and leaning over from the pallet as far as she could, she showed the respect due to my rank. I ran to her and embraced her prostrate form, and raising her, again restored her to her usual

Then she lifted her hand to God and said, 'This favor also You have granted me, O God. You have not deprived me of my desire, because You have stirred up Your servant to visit Your handmaid.'' Lest she should vex my soul, she stilled her groans and made great efforts to hide, if possible, the difficulty of her breathing. In every way she tried to be cheerful, both taking the lead herself in friendly talk, and giving us an opportunity by asking questions. When in the course of conversation mention was made of the great Basil, my soul was saddened and my face fell dejectedly. But so far was she from sharing in my affliction that, treating the mention of the saint as an occasion for yet loftier philosophy, she discussed various subjects...

When our conversation was finished, she said 'It is time, brother, for you to rest your body awhile,
since it is wearied with the great toil of your journey.' And though I found it a great and genuine rest to see her and hear her noble words, yet since she wanted it so much, that I might in every particular seem to obey my mistress, I found a pretty arbor prepared for me in one of the neighboring gardens, and rested under the shade of the trailing vines. But it was impossible to have any feelings of enjoyment when my soul within me was constrained by gloomy anticipations...We were, as one might guess, feeling dejected, expecting sad tidings, when Macrina, somehow or other divining our condition of mind, sent to us a messenger with more cheerful news, and bade us be of good cheer and have better hope for her, for she was feeling a change for the better. Now this was not said to deceive, but the message was actually true, though we did not know it at the time. Accordingly, feeling happy at the good news, we began to enjoy the sights that lay before us. For they were very varied and the arrangements gave much pleasure, since the great lady was careful even of these trifles.

But when we saw her again...she began to recall her past life, beginning with childhood, and describing it all in order as in a history. she recounted as much as she could remember of the life of our parents, and the events that took place both before and after my birth. But her aim throughout was gratitude towards God, for she described our parents' life not so much from the point of view of the reputation they enjoyed in the eyes of contemporaries on account of their riches, as an example of the divine blessing...

As I told [her] my own trouble and all that I had been through, first my exile at the hands of the Emperor Valens on account of the faith, and then the confusion in the Church that summoned me to conflicts and trials, my great sister said, 'Will you not cease to be insensible to the divine blessings? Will you not remedy the ingratitude of your soul ? Compare your position with that of your parents. And yet, as regards worldly things, we make our boast of being well born and thinking we come of a noble family. Our father was greatly esteemed as a young man for his learning ; in fact his fame was established throughout the law courts of the province. subsequently, though he excelled all others in rhetoric, his reputation did not extend beyond Pontus. But he was satisfied with fame in his own land.
But you, she said, are renowned in cities and peoples and nations. Churches summon you as an
ally and director, and do you not see the grace of God in it all ? Do you fail to recognize the cause of
such great blessings, that it is your parents' prayers that are lifting you up on high, you that have little
or no equipment within yourself for such success?' Thus she spoke, and I longed for the length of the day to be further extended...But the voice of the choir was summoning us to the evening service; sending me to church, the great one retired once more to God in prayer, and thus spent the night...

But when day came it was clear to me from what I saw that the coming day was the utmost limit of
her life in the flesh, since the fever had consumed all her innate strength. But she, considering the
weakness of our minds, was contriving how to divert us from our sorrowful anticipations, and once
more with those beautiful words of hers poured out what was left of her suffering soul with short and difficult breathing. Many, indeed, and varied, were the emotions of my heart at what I saw...

Most of the day had now passed, and the sun was declining towards the West. Her eagerness
did not diminish, but as she approached her end, as if she discerned the beauty of the Bridegroom
more clearly, and hastened towards the Beloved with the greater eagerness, such thoughts as these did
she utter... Her couch had been turned towards the East, and...she spoke henceforward to God in prayer, making supplication with her hands and whispering with a low voice, so that we could
just hear what was said. Such was the prayer...

'You, O Lord, have freed us from the fear of death. Thou hast made the end of this life the beginning to us of true life...You give our earth, which You have fashioned with Your hands, to the earth to keep in safety. One day You will take again what You have given, transfiguring with immortality and grace our mortal and unsightly remains...You have shown us the way of resurrection, having broken the gates of
hell...You have given a sign to those that fear You in the symbol of the Holy Cross...O God eternal,...give me an angel of light to conduct me to the place of refreshment...remember Your kingdom... forgive me, that I may be refreshed and may be found before You...may my soul be received into Your hands spotless and undefiled, as an offering before You.'

As she said these words she sealed her eyes, mouth and heart with the cross. Gradually her tongue dried up with the fever, so that she could articulate her words no longer, and her voice died away, and
only by the trembling of her lips and the motion of her hands did we recognize that she was praying.
Meanwhile evening had come and a lamp was brought in. All at once she opened...her eyes and looked towards the light, clearly wanting to repeat the thanksgiving sung at the Lighting of the Lamps. Though her voice failed, she fulfilled her intention in the heart and by moving her hands, while her lips stirred in sympathy...Having finished the thanksgiving, and bringing her hand to her face to make the sign that signified the end of the prayer, she drew a great deep breath, then closed her life and her prayer together...

...My mind was becoming unnerved in two ways: from the sight that met my gaze, and the sad wailing of the virgins that sounded in my ears. So far they had remained quiet and suppressed their grief... But when they could no longer subdue their anguish in silence, and grief like some inward fire was smoldering in their hearts, all at once a bitter and irrepressible cry broke out; so that my reason no longer remained calm, but a flood of emotion, like a watercourse in spate, swept it away, and so...I gave myself up to it. Indeed, the cause for the maidens' weeping seemed to me just and  reasonable...

I do not think it advisable to add to my narrative all the...things that we heard from those who
lived with her and knew her life accurately. For most men judge what is credible in the way
of a tale by the measure of their own experience. But what exceeds the capacity of the hearer, men
receive with insult and suspicion of falsehood, as remote from truth...There are happenings still
more surprising, of which I might tell: healings of diseases, and casting out of demons, and true
predictions of the future. All are believed to be true, even though apparently incredible, by those who
have investigated them accurately...[But] lest the unbeliever should be injured by being led to disbelieve the gifts of God, I have abstained from a consecutive narrative of these sublime wonders, thinking it sufficient to conclude my life of Macrina with what has been already said."

Sunday, July 18, 2010

A Suffering Shared, A Suffering Redeemed

There’s a scene in the musical, Fiddler On The Roof, where Nochem the Beggar and a man have this conversation: Nochem cries out: “Alms for the poor.” A man comes along and says: “Nochem, here’s a kopek.” “One kopek!” Nochem yells, “Why, last week you gave me two kopeks.” The man says, “I know...I'm sorry, but I had a bad week.” “So,” replies Nochem, “if you had a bad week, why should I suffer?!

Implicit in that comment is the age-old question regarding suffering: “Why?” “Why me?” In the Old Testament Job grappled with it, as have people down to our time. Elie Wiesel, noted author and survivor of the Holocaust, has spent virtually his whole life trying to understand, to make some sense of that horrific tragedy in order to help future generations.

Christians, generally, and the Anglican and Episcopal Churches particularly have a great tradition of people suffering: St. Alban, in the 4th century, the first English martyr; Bishops Hugh Latimer, Nicholas Ridley, and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in the 16th century; Archbishop Janani Luwum, shot to death in 1977, under Idi Amin’s rule in Uganda; and Roman Catholic Archbishop Oscar Romero and the Martyrs of El Salvador in the 1980’s. I can remember in the seminary, when we were faced with difficulties or illness, being advised to “offer it up”; to accept it “all for Jesus”; to embrace “self-denial and mortification”.

For the most part, our society today looks upon suffering as an absurdity, offering no useful lesson other than making us miserable. Suffering is especially hard to deal with when we see good people go under, while misfortune often seems to pass by those who are uncaring or who cause evil. In Western society we’re easily conditioned against all degrees and kinds of suffering, perhaps because we’ve seen too much of it. I remember a sad newspaper story back in 1983 where a young teenage girl, who’d been arrested for assault, made the comment: “We stabbed an old woman today. We had fun.

Medical science favors research which tries to abolish pain and to control disease. All day long TV ads push “doctor-recommended” tranquilizers, sleep-inducers, painkillers and hemorrhoid-shrinkers, intertwining these commercials with the latest news reports on who’s been beaten, robbed, stabbed, raped and maimed today. Human life has apparently become that cheap for some. Compassion and pity seem to be outdated and outlawed, so that we’ve almost institutionalized a sort of “new barbarism”, not least in movies and video games.

The meaning of suffering in any form is difficult to comprehend. We often don’t know what it is because suffering doesn’t seem to be uniform. Starvation in Darfur isn’t exactly the same as the hunger of a welfare recipient. Dying in the ovens of Auschwitz isn’t quite the same as dying in the bed of a nursing home. The physical pain of cancer doesn’t necessarily feel the same as the inner pain you feel when you realize that your spouse no longer respects or loves you. Perhaps we understand suffering so variously because how we experience it largely determines how we respond to it. Throughout history men, women, and children suffer and are made to suffer. They accept, submit, and resist. The struggle between life and death is fought out in a thousand ways.

We know little about the nature of suffering because it’s hard to measure or systematize how intense it is. For one person, a mental hunger may hurt more than an empty stomach. For another, separation and loss through death may affect a lover or mourner more deeply and lastingly than the loss of a home or property.

Suffering, as it has existed and exists today in our society, is often a cause of despair. The great Greek epics and elegies narrate and lament the fall of Troy and the death of great heroes. The tragedies offer their spectators a catharsis, a purging, with pity and terror. The Book of Job outlines our sad plight as human beings, as well as the rule of Wisdom. Yet none of these really leave us without some small hint of hope, even though the question “Why?” remains at the forefront of our minds and hearts.

For a follower of Christ, the answer to the question “Why?” is the acceptance of suffering as a reality, but a reality which we confront in solidarity with others. The Christian viewpoint is not fatalism or defeatism. There is a certain kind of escapism, such as that reflected in Psalm 124:7: “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowler; Our help is in the Name of the Lord…” Escaping, as Ulrich Simon notes, is “...but a first step in resistance [of suffering]. “As we run away from all sorts of prisons and tyranny we meet with comrades and find solidarity. A suffering shared may become a suffering redeemed or at least eased.

For a follower of Christ, the answer to the question “Why?” is also the acceptance of suffering shared as redemptive. You’ve heard the old adage: “Misery loves company.” There must be truth to it because, according to the Good News which Jesus preached, through our solidarity as Christians in suffering there is victory. We can’t argue this by way of the world’s logic. It doesn’t seem to make sense, but when we share each other’s burdens, we experience a love which conquers, which goes beyond suffering and evil. God, in Jesus, has been depicted through the centuries as the eternal sharer in our suffering: e.g., in medieval icons, in German art, in music by Johnann Sebastian Bach and Benjamin Britten, etc.

The passage today from Paul’s letter to the Colossians (1:15-28) helps us understand this: “...I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church…” Paul certainly isn’t implying that a balanced, mature, normal Christian person commends suffering or sets out to be a “victim” or a martyr. But once one faces inevitable suffering or even death, that suffering and dying can be transformed through union with Christ crucified. Solidarity with Jesus has been the hallmark of all those who accept suffering and dying as the mystery of “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. It’s never a question of abnormally delighting in pain, but rather a conscious choice of bearing the reality of our suffering in union with Christ’s Body rather than the dishonor of not living what we profess to believe.

Our Christian witness is to share with those suffering and dying all around us, who are part of us, that despite that suffering we and they are in solidarity through the Person of Christ, that their hurts and needs are ours, and that because we are the Communion of Saints, we will do what we can to minister to their needs.

I have to confess that I’m writing this largely for my own benefit. For several weeks now I’ve been inwardly struggling with the reality that my closest friend, Fr. Leo Joseph, OSF, has been diagnosed with metastasized liver cancer. I invite all of you join me in holding him up in prayer.

It’s very hard for me to imagine a time when Leo won’t be around. Our friendship began in September, 1994, when I was Rector of St. John’s, Chico, CA, and Leo came as a guest preacher. Two years later, when I was appointed Regional Missioner at Ukiah and Lakeport, we became close colleagues in developing shared ministry in what became the Redwood Episcopal Cluster. I can hardly think of a week, and even days in a row, since then that Leo and I haven’t talked by phone. We’ve shared the commonalities and quirks of both our Roman Catholic backgrounds: the “in” jokes, a love for liturgy and theology, and spirituality. As one of the most pastoral clergy people I’ve known, Leo has taught me immensely about what is good pastoral practice. He has consistently represented in his daily living what the patron of his Order, St. Francis of Assisi, had in mind for his friars. Leo’s deep spirituality is sometimes overshadowed by his devilishly refreshing humor, especially his irreverent quip about wanting to be remembered as “St. Leo, Virgin & Martyr”! He and I have helped one another over the years through each of our “down” times, and have equally rejoiced together in the celebrations of the good things which we’ve experienced.

And now, through his incredibly realistic and honest dealing with his illness, he continues to convey to me and to others the reality of which I spoke earlier: of learning hope through the presence and power of Jesus and through solidarity with one another in the face of suffering and death. Leo genuinely understands what Paul means by “Christ in you, the hope of glory”. As he told his congregation recently, he sees his present journey as one of “going home”, and it inspires me and others to witness Leo living with such graciousness, “securely established”, as Paul says, “steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel…” Like Mary of Bethany in the Gospel reading, Leo has “chosen the better part”: being “a [true] servant of this gospel...rejoicing in [his] sufferings for [others’] [his] flesh...completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body...the Church”; a true servant commissioned by God “to make the word...fully known, the mystery that has been hidden throughout the ages...but has now been revealed to his saints.

Would that each of us might have the grace and courage to do likewise.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

St. Henry (972-1024), Holy Roman German Emperor

(Left: Henry's Iron Crown of Lombardy, allegedly
inlaid with a nail from Christ's Cross)

(Right: Tomb Cover of Henry & Cunegunde)

Well into today I realized that it was one of my namesdays! "Harry" has always been a hard name for me to fit to a saint. My name is not a nickname for "Harold"; it's my actual name, after my grandfather. I've never particularly liked it, and probably would have preferred my middle name, "Richard", to it. I've always been told that, saint-wise, "Harry" is a derivative of "Henry" and that's the way my ordination certificate reads (in Latin, of course): "Henricus". In 1986 I learned that there's a Greek saint, "Charalampos" = joyful light, the Greek equivalent of "Harry". One of my Greek friends brought back his icon for me.  St. Charalampos lived c. 89-202, 113 years!  He was possibly the Bishop of Magnesia, in the region of Thessaly, under the persecution of Lucian. He suffered greatly as a martyr, his torturers lacerating him with hooks and scraping the skin from his body. How he was able to say anything after this, I don't know, but it's alleged that he responded: "Thank you, my brothers, for scraping off the old body and renewing my soul for new and eternal life." Long name, but I like the guy!

But back to St. Henry. I ran across the following rather nice, and apparently authoritative, commentary on our saint, written by Plinio Corréa Oliveira (1908-1995), professor at the Univerity of São Paulo, a Brazilian intellectual, politician and Catholic activist:

"...the life of St. Henry is full of memorable acts that should be is necessary to place them in their historical context.

We are in the Middle Age, in the early 1000s...The Middle Age began with the fall of the Roman Empire in the West. It was invaded by incalculable hordes of barbarians. Those barbarians established themselves inside the imperial territory and ended by subjecting the Romans to their control.

Gradually the Roman population also fell into barbarianism. The roads were abandoned with no one to care for them; the aqueducts that supplied the cities with water broke and no one repaired them; the palaces occupied by barbarians became dirty and disorganized; works of art in public places were ruined, and the cities fell into chaos. Everything that represented culture and civilization was miserably destroyed. In this situation Europe became illiterate and its level of customs sunk to unimaginably low levels...

While everything was being crushed, the Catholic Church remained as the one existing institution. Those barbarians began to convert under her influence...

In the year 1000, civilization had already achieved much in relation to the original barbarian way of living, but Catholic civilization was still far below the standards it would reach 200 or 300 years later. That is to say, at the time of St. Henry II, we are in a semi-barbarian situation.

Some peoples were more civilized than others. In Europe there were islands of an incipient Catholic civilization amid a sea of barbarian peoples who continued to go and come at will and attack the established kingdoms...

One of the earliest conversions took place with the Germanic peoples who occupied the territory of present-day Germany, Austria, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Switzerland. Those peoples became civilized and constituted a political entity called the Holy Roman German Empire. It was called Empire because it encompassed different peoples as a federation. Those free peoples agreed to be led,  not governed, by a single political chief, elected by the various heads of State. So, as a league including a large territory and different peoples, it was called an Empire. It was called Roman because its model was the old Roman Empire; it was called German because it had been founded by German peoples; and it was called Holy because its principal finality was to defend the Catholic Church against the aggression of the pagans.

In the person of St. Henry II, we see an Emperor who was also a saint. That a great political leader and head of an army was a saint does not fit very well with the lives of the saints taught by a certain sentimental piety. Indeed, he held the highest office in the most important political organization of his time and was, therefore, the most powerful man in Europe. Simultaneously he was the greatest warrior of Europe and the first son of the Church. He was par excellence the son of the Church. He was the one who always protected the Church against the attacks of her enemies.

He also had to face the peoples of the East who continuously attacked the Empire. So he gathered together a large army and counter-attacked those barbarians. He waged many wars and acted as a Catholic hero who had the spirit of faith, relying more on supernatural help than on his natural forces... He asked God for the might to win his battles...

But a danger still threatened Christendom: the presence of the Lombards in North Italy. Lombardy was not a land of pagans, but heretics who were enemies of the Catholic Faith. They used to attack the Pope and the Papal territories and opposed the Catholic Empire. So St. Henry, with the support of the Italian Bishops, entered Lombardy, defeated its army, and then went on to Rome to visit and pay homage to Pope Benedict VIII.

It was on this occasion that the Pope crowned him Emperor of the Holy Roman German Empire. In a ceremony realized with great splendor, he gave St. Henry a golden orb inlaid with pearls representing the power of the Emperor over the world. But St. Henry did not keep that treasure. To prove his love for the Church, he offered the precious gift to the holy Abbot Odilon, the head of the largest religious order of Europe at that time.

After inflicting new defeats on the revolted Lombards, he returned to Germany. There he assisted the Bishops to exert their role of maintaining discipline in the Church. He also was instrumental in the conversion of a pagan King. He offered an alliance with Stephen, King of Hungary, together with the hand of his sister, Gisela. She married Stephen and converted him. She did so good a job that he became... "St." Stephen, who afterward converted all of Hungary to the Catholic faith.

Behind this conversion was an intelligent diplomatic maneuver of St. Henry. With this he won a precious ally close to those Slavic enemy peoples who had just been pacified. His diplomatic sense was also demonstrated in the episode at the Meuse River, in which he gave up his privileges in order to please the French King. Crossing over to the French banks, St. Henry was implicitly paying homage to the King. That is, he who was more "an Emperor" paid homage to one who was less, in order to maintain cordial relations and to resolve the complicated problems of Europe.

After all these services to the Church and Christendom, St. Henry died in 1024 in the peace of God as a great saint, warrior, diplomat and politician."

Even allowing for a little embellishment and hype of Henry's virtue, it appears that, historically, Henry was a holy person, as was his wife, Cunegunde. Even though I've discovered my namesake, St. Charalampos (Harry), I think I'll also keep St. Henry. One can never have too many intercessors in the Communion of Saints! 


Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Oxford Movement, 177 Years Later

John Henry Newman

Edward Bouverie Pusey

The Oxford Movement was a movement of High Church Anglicans, eventually developing into Anglo-Catholicism. The members of the movement were often associated with the University of Oxford, and argued for the reinstatement of lost Christian traditions of faith and their inclusion into Anglican liturgy and theology.

The Movement was also known as the Tractarian Movement, after its series of publications Tracts for the Times, published 1833 to 1841. The group was also disparagingly called Newmanites (until 1845) and Puseyites (after 1845), after the two prominent figures, John Henry Newman and Edward Bouverie Pusey. Other prominent Tractarians included John Keble, Charles Marriott, Richard Hurrell Froude, Robert Wilberforce, Isaac Williams and William Palmer.

There were, of course, forerunners to the Oxford Movement. Oriel College at Oxford was ruled in succession by two energetic provosts, John Eveleigh and Edward Copleston. They encouraged their pupils to reason freely, such that the college became famous during Copleston’s provostship for the unbounded criticism in which Oriel fellows indulged. Among them were Blanco White, a former Roman Catholic priest, and Richard Whately, later Archbishop of Dublin. Oxford nicknamed such men the "noetics" or intellectuals. Society at that time held authority in high respect and, therefore, traditionalists were a bit shocked by the freedom with which the Oriel men subjected anything and everything to criticism. They were proponents of reform, both in academic and in ecclesiastical politics. They had no agreed program, and formed no party. It was never their wish to form a party. In fact, it would have defeated their chief aim: to create a habit of intellectual independence. Yet their friendship, common perspective and goals could not but enable them to have a considerable influence in the Church, particularly when later they were eventually called to higher office, as some of them were.

The immediate impetus for the movement was the Irish Church Bill or Reform Act of 1832, by which Parliament sought to reduce by ten the number of Irish bishops in the Church of Ireland. The Oxford group perceived this as an attempt to secularize the Church. John Keble was an Oriel fellow, professor of poetry, and curate to his father in a little village on the border of the Cotswolds, a man whose academic career had been one of most unusual distinction. In a sermon before the Judges of Assize at Oxford, July 14, 1833, John Keble attacked Parliament's proposal as an intrusion on the Church by the State, indeed, as "national apostasy". Keble challenged the Church of England to look at the nature and purpose of the Church catholic and to arouse herself to her own defense.

Oxford Movement leaders postulated the so-called Branch Theory, which understood Anglicanism, along with Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism, as forming three "branches" of the one "Catholic Church". They argued for the inclusion of traditional aspects of liturgy from medieval religious practice in a Church which, they felt, had become too plain.

There were generally two reactions to Keble's sermon: a static/conservative group of such scholars like Hugh James Rose, Richard Froude, William Palmer, an antiquarian liturgist, and Arthur Philip  Percival; and the dynamic/radical Oxford group, represented primarily by Keble and Newman. The latter group began publishing Tracts for the Times. The first of these was Newman’s, Thoughts on the Ministerial Commission, respectfully addressed to the Clergy. All the early tracts sounded the same notes of stress, danger and appeal. Other writers joined them, some men of great power and worthy leaders in the cause. They would eventually publish 90 tracts. John Henry Newman, in the Advertisement of the tracts, clearly states their intent: "The following Tracts were published with the object of contributing something towards the practical revival of doctrines, which, although held by the great divines of our Church, at present have become obsolete with the majority of her members, and are withdrawn from public view even by the more learned and orthodox few who still adhere to them."

Tracts #38 and #41, Via Media, No. I & II, dealt with the ongoing attempt of the Church of England to maintain a very sensitive balance between the Church as catholic and as evangelical or protestant. The Oxford Movement felt that the evangelical emphasis at that time tended to be too insulated. It lacked a sense of corporate worship and seemingly had little sense of the sacraments. Nevertheless, some of the most forceful and popular preaching in England came from this approach. Apart from the Tracts for the Times, the Oxford group began a collection of translations of the ancient Fathers of the Church, called the Library of the Fathers, in which Edward Bouverie Pusey participated, and which ran to 48 volumes.

A major turning point in the Oxford Movement was John Henry Newman's tract #90, in 1841, Remarks on Certain Passages in the 39 Articles. In it Newman argued that the doctrines of the Roman Catholic Church, as defined by the Council of Trent, were compatible with the 39 Articles of the sixteenth-century Church of England, and that the Church of England condemns only Roman practices and excesses, not the official teaching of catholicism. In the last paragraph of the tract, Newman concludes: "...while our Prayer Book is acknowledged on all hands to be of catholic origin, our articles also, the offspring of an uncatholic age, are, through GOD'S good providence, to say the least, not uncatholic, and may be subscribed by those who aim at being catholic in heart and doctrine..." This theory, though not altogether new, aroused much indignation in Oxford, and Archibald Campbell Tait, later Archbishop of Canterbury, along with three other senior tutors, denounced it as "suggesting and opening a way by which men might violate their solemn engagements to the university." The alarm was shared by the heads of houses and by others in authority; and, at the request of the Bishop of Oxford, the publication of the Tracts came to an end.

John Henry Newman's conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1845, followed by that of Henry Edward Manning in 1851, (both of whom later became Roman Catholic cardinals), had a profound effect upon the Movement. It was attacked for being a mere "Romanizing" tendency, but it eventually began to have an influence on the theory and practice of Anglicanism.

 Other major figures influenced by the Oxford Movement who became Roman Catholics include:

* Robert Hugh Benson, son of the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, novelist, and monsignor.* John Chapman OSB, patristic scholar and Roman Catholic priest.
* Augusta Theodosia Drane, writer and Dominican prioress.
* Frederick William Faber, theologian, hymn writer, Oratorian and Roman Catholic priest.
* Gerard Manley Hopkins, poet and Jesuit priest.
* Robert Stephen Hawker, poet and Anglican priest, converted on his deathbed.
* Monsignor Ronald A. Knox, Biblical text translator and formerly an Anglican priest.
* Henry Edward Manning, later Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster.

The Oxford Movement ultimately resulted in the establishment of Anglican religious orders, both of men and women. It incorporated ideas and practices related to the practice of liturgy and ceremony so as to bring more powerful emotional symbolism and energy to the Church. It particularly brought the insights of the Liturgical Movement into the life of the Church. Its effects were so widespread that the Eucharist gradually became more central to worship, vestments became common, and numerous Catholic practices were re-introduced into worship. This led to controversies within churches that ended up in court, particularly in the dispute about ritualism.

Partly because bishops refused to give livings to Tractarian priests, many of them ended up working in the slums. From their new ministries they developed a critique of British social policy, both local and national. One of the results was the establishment of the Christian Social Union, of which a number of bishops were members, where issues such as the just wage, the system of property renting, infant mortality and industrial conditions were debated. The more radical Catholic Crusade was a much smaller organisation than the Oxford Movement. Anglo-Catholicism, as this complex of ideas, styles and organizations became known, had a massive influence on global Anglicanism. Paradoxically, the Oxford Movement was attacked both for being secretive and broadly collusive.

After Newman's conversion to Rome in 1845, the name of the Oxford Movement became largely associated with Edward Bouverie Pusey. He had become a close student of the fathers and of that school of Anglican divines who had continued, or revived, in the17th century the main traditions of pre-Reformation teaching. His sermon, preached before the university in May, 1843, The Holy Eucharist, a Comfort to the Penitent, startled the authorities by his restating doctrines which, though well known to ecclesiastical figures, had largely faded from the common view. By the exercise of an authority which, however legitimate, was almost obsolete, Pusey was suspended from preaching for two years. His suspension led to the sale of 18,000 copies of the condemned sermon! The sermon had the lasting effect of making Pusey the most influential person in the Anglican Church for the next quarter of a century. It was one of the causes which led Newman to "swim the Tiber".

A movement, in the actual origination of which Pusey had had no share, came to bear his name: it was  Puseyism, as it was popularly known, its adherents being referred to as Puseyites. Publicly and privately, he wielded enormous weight as leader of the movement. He had his hands in every important controversy, theological or academic.

The occasions on which Pusey preached before his university were all memorable. Some of the sermons were manifestoes, marking distinct stages in the history of the High Church party of which he was the leader. The practice of confession in the Church of England practically dates from his two sermons on The Entire Absolution of the Penitent, in 1846, in which the revival of high sacramental doctrine is complemented by his advocating a revival of the penitential system which medieval theologians had appended to it. His sermon on The Presence of Christ in the Holy Eucharist, in 1853, first formulated the doctrine around which almost all the subsequent theology of his followers revolved. It revolutionized Anglican worship practices. Most noted among his books are The Doctrine of the Real Presence (1855) and The Real Presence in the Doctrine of the English Church (1857), and the Eirenicon, in which he endeavoured to find a basis of union between the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Chile's First Saint - Teresita de los Andes

Juana Enriqueta Josefina Fernandez Solar, "Juanita" to those close to her, was born in Santiago, Chile, on July 13, 1900, the fourth child of a family of some means.  Her mother was Lucía Solar de Fernández, and her father, Michael Fernández Jaraquemada. Her siblings were Lucía, Miguel, Luís, Juana, who died in childbirth, Rebecca and Ignacio.  As a member of a family devoted to their Christian faith, Juana was drawn to God early on, around the age of 6 according to her diary, "when Jesus began to take my heart to be His own". She was no "saint" personality-wise at first, displaying evidence of pride, self-centeredness, and stubbornness.  In time she developed, by God's grace, a remarkable determination to overcome these defects.

Juana was educated under the supervision of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. She received First Communion at age 10.  With a child's comprehension of what it meant for God to dwell in her, she worked for a whole year to prepare herself for this important day in her life, September 11, 1910, Chile's centenary year. That very day, she notes, she "experienced His dear voice for the first time...Since that first embrace, Jesus did not let me go but took me for Himself."

She felt called, as early as age 14, to devote her life to God as a religious with the Discalced Carmelites. On her 15th birthday in 1915 she wrote: "...I have glimpsed the beautiful shores of Carmel." With her spiritual guide's permission, she took a vow of virginity that year, initially for nine days, continually renewing it from then on.

By the time Juana was 17 she was obviously unshaken in her resolve to become a Carmelite, and displayed a realistic understanding of the life: "I love the Carmelites because they are so simple, so joyful and Jesus must be that way. But I see also that the life of a Carmelite consists in suffering, in loving and praying. When the consolations of prayer are denied me, what will happen to me? I tremble. But Jesus said to me: 'Do you believe I'll abandon you?'"

Juana and her mother, Lucía, took the morning express train to the Carmelite Monastery of the Holy Spirit at Los Andes on January 11, 1919. Juana fell in love with it, and spent most of the day discussing her proposed entrance there with Mother Angelica. Juana notes in her diary on April 3 that she'd written to her father, who was away, asking his permission for her entering the Carmelites. She worried over it, but was relieved when her mother received a note that evening from Señor Fernández hinting that he wasn't opposed to it, but wanted to give it further thought. Three days later, her father agreed to it, despite his misgivings about the choice. Juana entered the monastery on May 7, 1919, taking the name Teresa of Jesus. After only a week she wrote: "...I feel divine love in such a way that there are moments when I believe I'm unable to endure it. I want to be a pure host and continually sacrifice myself for priests and sinners." That inner happiness as a Carmelite continued until her premature death. Her wish to "sacrifice myself" was certainly answered in the short time she remained alive, for she underwent immense suffering, not only physically, but interiorly: homesickness, worry for her family, especially her brother, Miguel, doubts concerning faith, spiritual dryness, etc.  She was clothed in the Carmelite habit on October 14 and began her novitiate.  Her diary's last entry, on November 21, 1919, begins: "To live only for God..."

Less than a year of living as a Carmelite, Teresa fell ill in 1920 with typhoid fever.  In the first days of March she told her confessor, Fr. Avertano, that she would die within a month. After spending all day Holy Thursday, April 1, in choir up until 1:00 AM, she returned there after dawn, but was sent to bed by the Novice Mistress, with a high fever. Her condition worsened over the next four days. Her mother arrived, and Teresa was given the Last Rites. In the early hours of April 7, since it appeared she was on the verge of dying, Teresa was allowed to make her religious profession as a Carmelite nun. Five days later, on April 12, she died at 7:15 PM at 19 years, 9 months of age. Her funeral and burial took place two days later, April 14.

In November, 1920, seven months after Teresa's death, her sister, Rebecca, followed her by entering the same monastery. She lived to age 40, dying December 31, 1942. In March, 1986, Teresa was declared Venerable by Pope John Paul II. In April, 1987 he declared her Blessed, and on March 21, 1993 he canonized Blessed Teresita, as the people of her country affectionately refer to her, a saint of the Church. 

Teresa possessed an enormous capacity to love and to be loved, joined with extraordinary intelligance. God allowed her to experience his presence. Knowing him, she loved him; and loving him, she bound herself totally to him, even through many interior trials. The Church holds her up as a preeminent model for children and young adults: a real person to whom they can relate. Teresa of Jesus of the Andes is the first Chilean to be declared a saint. She is also the first Discalced Carmelite nun to become a saint outside the boundaries of Europe, and is the fifth St. Teresa in the Discalced Carmelite Order (together with St. Teresa of Avila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, St. Teresia Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein), and St. Teresa Margaret of Florence). Her feastday is observed on July 13.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Reign of God Has Come Near

The first reading for Pentecost 6 from 2 Kings 5:1-14 is the wonderful story about Naaman. Naaman was the commander of the army of the king of Aram/Syria/Damascus. He had every reason to feel fulfilled: he's described as a "great high favor with his master", and his success was given to him "by...the Lord" who had enabled his victory for Aram. But he had this problem...a serious skin disease, bad enough that it needed immediate attention. One can imagine the embarrassment it must have caused him, a military man, a man out and about amidst high society people.

The key to this story, for me, is the intervention, not of the high and mighty, of doctors or medical wizards, but of a couple of servants. Naaman's wife had acquired a young female slave, an Israelite, part of the booty of one of Aram's raids, presumably led by Naaman. The young girl, probably hearing Naaman's wife lamenting his condition, could have kept quiet and let them figure out their own solution. But she chooses to volunteer information about a great "prophet who is in Samaria", namely, Elisha. The information is passed on to Naaman who requests a leave of absence from the king to take care of his problem. The king grants it and hurriedly writes a letter to the king of Israel, saying "...know that I have sent to you my servant Naaman, that you may cure him of his leprosy." The touchy Israelite king interprets the message literally, without reading between the lines, and takes it as the Syrian king's ruse to pick a quarrel with him and go to war. 

Elisha gets wind of the dilemma, sends a messenger to the Israelite king, questioning his behavior, and tells him to send Naaman to him immediately "that he may learn that there is a prophet in Israel". A prophet is one who stands in God's stead to get across a message, usually of salvation. Naaman arrives at Elisha's house in customary style with his chariots, horses, and entourage. But Elisha doesn't even come outside. He sends a messenger to tell Naaman to go wash in the Jordan seven times, "and your flesh shall be restored and you shall be clean". 

Naaman is not at all a happy camper! As if it's not enough indignity to have this affliction, in the first place; as if it wasn't completely embarrassing to have to go to his king and ask for time off; as if it it wasn't enough to suffer the inconvenience of a trip to Elisha' this prophet won't even give him, a "four-star" commander, the time of day!  Naaman was looking for results befitting his status: Elisha coming out to greet him, then dramatically and with a flourish, calling on the Hebrew God to cure Naaman, maybe waving his hands over him, for show, and...vaboom! The skin disease is gone! Now, this yokel wants to send him, Naaman, off to a river for ritual cleansing! Naaman is very angry, sputtering to those around him that he'd have done better to wash in one of the rivers of Damascus, which were much cleaner than these Israelite waters. So he's stomping around in a rage!

At this point, once again, the voice of reason comes from a slave, actually several of his servants. They come to him and, obviously quite familiar with his king-size ego, remind him that, had Elisha asked him to do something really hard, Naaman would've done it. He was apparently the kind of guy who thrived on challenge, on figuring out how to get a job done. They help Naaman recall what Elisha really said, not what Naaman thought Elisha had said: "...all he said to you was, 'Wash, and be clean'..." Naaman probably paused and pondered this for a moment. He obviously really listened to his servants, because whether he was really convinced or not, he goes down into the Jordan's waters and "immersed himself seven times...and he was clean".  

The message is clear: it isn't Elisha, or even the waters per se, which cure Naaman. It's no human person or thing at all, but rather the living God who acts graciously even in the face of begrudging faith! The sub-message for me is that this healing came about by God working through a couple of humble slaves, obviously people who themselves were very attuned to God. 

Luke's Gospel reading (10:1-11; 16-20) bears a similar message. Jesus sends his eager new recruits out "on mission" to preach the Good News, giving them a few guidelines on how to go about it successfully. The most important advice he gives is that they're to be, in essence, like servants or slaves: no purse, no bag, not even sandals; greeting no one on the road, but going directly to the people who need them, offering peace if folks are amenable, staying "put" where they're sent, focused, humbly accepting others' hospitality. Being at the mercy of those whom they serve. And most importantly, letting those folks know that the reign of God, Gods own Presence and Self is already here, "near to you", in you. And God is the one who will do the healing, not them.

The disciples come back, chattering and beside themselves with the "results": demons submitting "to us", Satan falling from heaven, lightning flashes! Fanfare, drama! Then Jesus reminds them, and us, that, yes, by God's power and grace we, simple human beings, function truly as conduits for God's healing, and we're secure in that as long as we remember that it's God who's responsible for whatever happens, not us! Don't rejoice, Jesus says, that the spirits submit to you...rejoice that the living God has created you to be in a permanent, mutual relationship of love. Fr. Gregory Fruehwirth, OJN, in his book Words For Silence writes:

"This One who is beyond and with
speaks the simplest truth: I am.

I am bliss
and I rejoice in you.
And you are because I want you to be.
Come and enjoy my love."


Friday, July 2, 2010

Pride Or Prejudice?

I am patriotic. I love my country, the United States of America, and I refuse to accept anyone challenging that fact.
Songs and marches about my country stir my heart, many times bringing me to the verge of tears.
Though, at my age, it's not likely, I would, if my conscience convinced me that the circumstances warranted, defend any of my fellow U.S. citizens against an enemy's attack.
I am daily inspired by living examples of U.S. citizens who, despite horrific obstacles, manage to keep going: providing for their families, improving themselves mentally, physically and spiritually, reaching out to others in selflessness, enriching their fellow citizens lives by giving their time, talent and resources.
I am grateful for living in a country relatively safely, able to have a decent roof over my head, having access to wholesome food, and able to meet all of my basic needs.

Nevertheless, I believe that I also have the right to question what I believe to be the shortcomings of my country and its leaders, the right to demand that they be accountable to "we, the people", the right to voice my opposition, even passionately, when I perceive laws, policies and actions which are questionable, inappropriate, possibly hurtful or unjust for my welfare and that of my fellow citizens. It seems to me that many times we like to flaunt the idea that we are a nation "under God", yet when confronted with things which clearly run counter to generally accepted godly principles of morality, justice, and charity, we're not, as a nation, always willing to act accordingly.

I'm categorically opposed to my country or any nation going to war with any other nation. I'm also realistic enough to know that there have always been wars, and that that probably won't change any time soon. During the Vietnam War, when I was still a Roman Catholic priest, I volunteered to enlist as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force. My superior at the time refused to allow me to do so, for good reasons. My desire to enlist was motivated solely by wanting to help bring some kind of hope and spiritual support to the men and women engaged in that horrible military debacle. 

My cousin, seminary mates and other friends were called up to serve, in the flower of their youth. John Glasper, two years behind me, was killed during his first week in Vietnam, by "friendly fire". Captain Robert Bush, whom I met while supplying at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, KS, was shot down in an F-15 aircraft on his second and last tour of duty. Thankfully, my cousin, Mike Beck, survived the war after losing a number of close friends, including his Lieutenant, and being awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded twice. None of these three nor I, I feel sure, had identical convictions about the war itself or about our country's motivation or participation in it. I do believe that each of us dearly loved our country and, at the same time, tried to live by our deepest convictions.

Today as I came out of the supermarket I stopped by a table where a Marine Corps veteran of the Vietnam conflict, a recently retired postal worker, manned a Military Order of the Purple Heart display. As with the VFW (Veterans of Foreign Wars), who frequently have such local displays, one of their principal uses of donations collected is to support wounded veterans. I will unabashedly confess that I am a complete sucker, an extraordinarily easy-touch when it comes to women and men like that. One of my deeply felt gripes with the U.S. government is the disgraceful and shoddy treatment of veterans: not only those living, but even of those who have already given their lives. Recent findings have pointed out the bumbling and outrageous SNAFUs regarding the military cemetery and burial system. So it went without saying that I happily placed my donation in the can today.

Having picked up one of the brochures, I read about the aims and purpose of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. I list these below, to give credit where credit is due, and, reflecting some of what I said above, to point out what I consider a touch of propaganda:

National service and volunteer programs assist veterans with benefits and claims and supports those who are hospitalized."
It's hard to argue with that.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart takes great pride in the United States of America and all that for which she stands."
I was OK for the first half of that statement, but am having some trouble with the last phrase. Trouble is, in my view, that we "stand for" one thing on paper and in patriotic speeches, but for far different, often quite ignoble and hurtful things in reality. I base that on our actual history, on some facts which are on the record.

We work to keep alive the history of General George Washington and America's citizen soldiers from all wars." And on the inside of the brochure is a quotation from George Washington: "The road to glory in a patriot army and free country is thus open to all."
I guess my question is: what kind of "glory" is possible in any army, a group trained and focused on the taking of lives of opposing combatants and, in unfortunately too many sad instances, of the lives of innocent men, women and children? The other consideration is the fact that though, at the time of the 1770's Revolution Americans may have been a middle-class society (generally white, male, and either lawyers, land owners, or slave-owners), it had a large and growing number of the poor, and many of them, largely through conscription or impressment, did the actual fighting and dying. Additionally, slaves, indentured servants, Native Americans and women were repeatedly denied, not only basic rights, but certainly any right to even bear arms for their country. Even then, America was far from being the "free country...thus open to all" referred to by Washington! (John Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence, Oxford, 1976)

We help educate the youth of America to understand that freedom is not free."
I've never really understood exactly what that means, frankly. The freedom which God has given each of us, without exception, is totally free, and that's true whether one finds oneself in a situation of oppression or not. That's the whole meaning of grace. If that phrase means that each of us has to take responsibility to exercise our freedom for the good of others, all others, then I can go along with it. Somehow, I don't think that's what the person who coined that jingle may have had in mind.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart offers camaraderie with friends, new and old, who share the common bond of combat for America."
I can understand this. To have survived such ordeals as our military men and women have experienced certainly creates an unbreakable bond. Clergy have something similar; and cops and firemen; and survivors of breast cancer. The danger is that any group can become in-grown, isolated, exclusive, even discriminatory.

 The Ladies Auxiliary Military Order of the Purple Heart consists of wives, mothers and daughters who support our veterans."
These are often the unsung heroes. They go through "combat" also as they anxiously live through the months or years of their loved one's involvement in the military. They're the survivors of so much of which we're totally unaware.

Well, with all that said, I ask God's blessing on the United States of America on this 4th of July weekend celebration of becoming, at least in theory, a group of "united states". I ask God's blessing on each and every citizen of this great land, especially on the many new citizens from such wonderfully diverse ethnic, religious, and national backgrounds. I ask that God may motivate us to really look at and make real, in our own everyday lives, the principles which our national documents say that we espouse. I pray that we may all find our ways to true "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".