Sunday, January 31, 2010


Kristen Glass writes:
Vocation does not need to be "found," vocation needs to be lived. By nature of being born, you have a vocation. You are called to live in the world and be a person in the world. Developing your vocation is about answering the world's specific call to action as the person you are. Vocation is not a "thing," it's a calling. It's a call for reflecting on yourself, on your role in the world, and on the gifts given to you that in turn you can return to the world. Living into your vocation, your calling as a human being, is responding to the portion of reality that is claiming you. The world that says there is a need for peace, justice, mentoring, calmness, action, grace, activism. The world presents many opportunities for you...

Take, for example, the account of Jeremiah’s call in the first reading (Jeremiah 1:4-10). Notice the difference between his call and his commissioning. “...before I formed you...before you were born... I formed you...I knew you...I consecrated you...I appointed you...”: that’s the call. Before God even brings up the commission, however, Jeremiah starts making excuses. Unfortunately, modern translations, including the one used here today, have watered down what is much more dramatic in the old Latin Vulgate version. That version depicts Jeremiah stuttering: “A, a, a Lord God! I don’t know how to speak because I am [only] a boy.” The Hebrew na’ar means boy, but that could cover from the age of infancy through adolescence. The point is: he was really young, perhaps a teenager, according to some biblicists. Imagine how you’d feel as a teen, getting a call like this from God! Even without the age factor, you and I often back away from God’s call to us. “Uh, God, can’t I postpone relaying your message...You know, I’m kinda busy right now; I don’t have time...Besides, I’m really not an expert at this sort of stuff...I don’t know how to do that...To tell you the truth, I’m afraid...

And God’s reply to us is the same as to Jeremiah, and this is the commissioning: “
Don’t say [that]; for you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command...Do not be afraid...for I am with you...” And as God touched Jeremiah, so God touches us, empowers us, with the Word who is Christ.

Commentator David Buttrick tells of a small Scandanavian religious sect with an odd ordination service: when a minister is ordained, the minister at once runs out of the church building and begins preaching in the street. In the same way, God calls you and me out to speak to the wider community, because the Church, whom we are, isn’t an in-house discussion group! “
I have set you...over nations and pluck pull build...” You and I are called in Baptism to challenge, to upset, to not let things stand where they are in people’s lives, to dig new ground, to plant new visions: to build the Body of Christ, to be doers of God’s Word, not just hearers.

Jesus was very aware of his call from God, and Luke indicates that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in paying a visit to his hometown, Nazareth (as we saw in last week’s Gospel and continuing in today’s account: Luke 4:21-30). “
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up; and he went to the synagogue, as his custom was, on the sabbath...” When they give Jesus a scroll from which to read, it just happens to be a passage from Isaiah’s 61st chapter: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” And thereupon Jesus slips in what we used to call in sales, a “ho-hum crasher”: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus was already doing, in his ministry, what he was calling the members of his hometown synagogue to do.

Now, up to that point he‘d been speaking their language, but he then takes exception to the only ways they had imagined that God’s kingdom would come. If he’d wanted to, Jesus could’ve quoted some other verses from Isaiah: like the one in Chapter 13: “B
ehold, the day of the Lord comes, cruel, with wrath and fierce anger, to make the earth a desolation and to destroy its sinners from it.” Sometimes “good” church people seem to feel better when “sinners” gettin’ their due -- and the word “sinners” can cover a multitude of, well, “sins”, and apply not just to people who do bad things, but to people we maybe don’t like so well, or who don’t fit in with us, or who’re “different” from us.

Or Jesus might’ve quoted from Isaiah 30:15: “
In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” We like to hear those kinds of messages, don’t we? But as someone has said, the preacher’s job is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable”.

What Jesus quotes to them are two proverbs: “
Physician, heal thyself” and “No prophet is acceptable in the prophet’s hometown.” The first one tips them off that Jesus knows what they want to hear and see: “Do for us here what we’ve heard you did at Capernaum. Let’s see some signs and wonders!” And the second proverb, along with the examples which follow, throws down a challenge to their misplaced faith, to their self-satisfied attitude as God’s chosen and to their resistance to be doers, rather than just hearers of his Word. Jesus says that all sorts of Israelite widows in Elijah’s time needed help and food, but Elijah took care of the widow in Zarephath, a Gentile, who had faith. And there were many lepers in Israel in Elisha’s time, but Naaman the Syrian, another Gentile, had more humble faith and acted out of greater obedience than the chosen people, and so was healed. David Buttrick speaks of the kind of dynamics that are going on here: “...the demand for signs and wonders..., as ever, is big nowadays. To us God is extraordinary and therefore ought to be on display in extraordinary ways -- give us a faith healer’s miracle or some 3-D religious experience. Instead, we are dismayed, for all we get is a human message: good news for the poor, release for prisoners, sight for sightless eyes, and ethics...

Jesus’ townsfolk can’t handle this, even though they must’ve had some sense that what Jesus was saying was true. So, they’re
furious. They kick Jesus out of the synagogue, rush him off to the brink of a hill, intending to throw him over it. But Jesus calmly passes through the crowd and goes on his way.

Calvary was predictable, given the way Jesus’ hometown people treated him in Nazareth. Why is it that when we human beings are confronted with God’s demands, we seem to react by trying to get rid of God? Generation after generation has refused God’s prophets, chased them away, or nailed them on crosses. And that’s the possibility with which God’s confronts you and me in calling us. “
...Your vocation is about answering the world's specific call to action as the person you are...responding to the portion of reality that is claiming you.

If you’d been part of the Nazareth townspeople and someone came to interview you the next day after Jesus had been there, how would you have described what happened? That the hometown boy had come back, and that it was supposed to have been an exciting day. But that he’d disappointed everyone, had twisted the Writings around and gone off on some wild idea about reaching out to Gentiles, of all people, as God had? How the crowd had finally shown him that he and his strange, radical ideas weren’t at all welcome in your synagogue?
Might you have said that you’d been in the crowd and how what he’d said had moved you and made you seriously rethink what you’re supposed to be doing to really live your faith? How all that he’d said didn’t quite jibe with what you’d been taught, or how people around this synagogue see and do things, and yet how it had all made sense? About how, despite the crowd’s rough treatment, Jesus had just turned and calmly walked away? How the whole incident had touched you and helped you resolve to try to change: to maybe reexamine old habits and assumptions, to pay more attention to people and situations more closely and see all the sides of a problem? About how you’re feeling about all this: confused, scared, unsure, yet at the same time strangely peaceful, more confident, right?

Vocation does not need to be "found," vocation needs to be lived...

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Gentleman Doctor of the Church

"The measure of love is to love without measure." (Treatise on the Love of God) Those words of St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622) could very well sum up the whole of his life.

Francis Bonaventura was born at Château de Sales (Thorens) in Swiss Savoy to a noble family. His father was François de Boisy, a name he took upon receiving the dowry of the Signory de Boisy from Francis' mother, Françoise de Sionnz. Francis was the eldest of twelve children. Early on, he was educated by his mother, and later, by Abbé Deage, his tutor. He loved books and knowledge, and clearly was drawn to things spiritual. He attended the college at Annecy, and there took the tonsure at age 9. His father, in 1578, when he was 12, sent him to the Collège de Clermont at the University of Paris, where he remained for six years. Between 1579 and 1587, Francis suffered from severe scruples and depression resulting in his becoming convinced that he was damned to Hell. He became physically ill and was even bedridden for a time. The intellectual and emotional
upheavals of university life in Paris at that time may also have contributed to his inner turmoil. Judging from his later gentle personality, one would never guess the storms raging within him, battering and driving him, at the age of nineteen, to the brink of despair and thoughts of suicide. Francis contemplated a plunge into the waters of the Seine to end it all.

At this point he was inspired to visit the shrine of the famous Black Virgin of Paris, Notre-Dame de Bonne-Délivrance.

The lovely old statue is still in Paris, in the chapel of the motherhouse of the Sisters of Saint Thomas of Villanova at Neuilly. After praying at the shrine, his depression and anxiety gradually lifted and he dedicated his life to God.

The Scriptural reality of the words "God is love" assured Francis that whatever God had in store for him would be good. His faithful devotion to the God of love not only expelled his doubts, but also influenced his teaching the rest of his life. In 1608, Francis wrote his best known work, the Introduction to the Devout Life, a small collection of short practical lessons on true piety and everyday living, for his cousin by marriage, Madame de Chamoisy.

In 1588, Francis transferred from the University of Paris to the University of Padua in Italy, where he spent four years studying law and theology, earning a doctorate in 1592, which certified him for both. Intelligent and handsome, Francis withstood his father's continual efforts to have him marry and establish a secular career in the Senate of Chambéry, and chose instead a life in religion.

The intervention of Claude de Granier, Bishop of Geneva, led to Francis' ordination as a priest in 1593 and to his appointment as provost of the cathedral chapter of Geneva. Since the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, the seat of the Catholic bishops of Geneva were located at Annecy in Savoy, France, because of Calvinist control of the city of Geneva. Francis, in his capacity as canon provost, engaged in a serious ministry of evangelism among the Protestants of Savoy, apparently persuading many to return to the "Old Faith" (Catholicism).

Bishop de Granier had made no bones all along that he wanted Francis as his coadjutor bishop, though the latter resisted. To that end he sent Francis to Rome where Pope Clement VIII suggested that Francis be examined in theology. An impressive group of theologians, including Cardinal (and later St.) Robert Bellarmine, gathered to hear Francis' responses to 35 theological questions. Francis handled them simply, modestly and with clear evidence of profound understanding. Pope Clement embraced and congratulated him, and arranged for his appointment as coadjutor bishop of Geneva. Bishop de Granier also sent Francis to Paris to forge alliances with King Henry IV, who held Francis in high esteem and even tried to persuade him to remain in France. Francis begged off, referring to his need to return to "my poor bride", as he called his mountain diocese.

Bishop de Granier died in the autumn of 1602 and, and Francis succeeded him as Bishop of Geneva. During his years as bishop, he proved to be a spellbinding preacher as well as an ascetic figure; he was known as a friend of the poor, a man of almost supernatural affability and understanding. These last qualities come through wonderfully in his famous books. He is said to have devised a form of sign language for a poor deaf man in order to communicate. Francis' brother, Jean-François de Sales, was also consecrated a bishop, in 1621, and appointed coadjutor to his brother in the diocese of Geneva.

For sixteen years Francis shared a close friendship in his ministry and a prolific correspondence with Jeanne Françoise Fremyot, baroness of Chantal, whom we know as St. Jane Frances de Chantal. Along with Francis, she co-founded the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary at Annecy in June, 1610. [As a personal historical note, the only woman I've known who was named after her was my Grade 8 teacher, Sister Jane Frances, SND.]
Francis was active in his teaching and preaching ministry right up to the end of his life. Returning from a trip with Charles Emmanuel I, Duke of Savoy, to meet with King Louis XIII at Languedoc, he was forced to stop at Lyons, worn out and ill, and was put up in a cottage by the sisters at the convent of the Visitation. He remained there for a month, preaching, giving the nuns instruction and spiritual guidance. He died on December 28, 1622, at age 56 and in the 20th year of his episcopate. He was buried in Annecy in 1624 where his body still rests today in the basilica. The relic of his heart was kept at Lyons, but was moved during the French Revolution to Venice where it is venerated.
Francis de Sales was beatified in 1661 by Pope Alexander VII, who also canonized him a saint three years later, in 1664. Pius IX declared him a Doctor of the Church in 1877. In 1923, Pope Pius XI proclaimed him a patron of writers and journalists, because of his books and letters.

With the death of J. D. Salinger this week, I'm wondering what an interesting conversation and comparing of notes he might be having with Francis de Sales!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Angelic Doctor

During our six years in the major seminary we spent more hours than I care to remember perusing and discussing the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (c. 1225-1274). As often happens, after you've hopefully grown in age, wisdom and grace you begin to appreciate things, like Thomas' writings, which once seemed dull, dry and uninteresting a whole lot more.

Revisiting the Summa this morning, I was particularly struck by Thomas' very first words in the foreword of this monumental work:

"Since it is the duty of a teacher of catholic truth not only to build up those who are mature in their faith, but also to shape those who are just the declared purpose of this work is to convey things that pertain to the Christian religion in a way that is readily accessible to beginners.

We have noticed that newcomers are invariably put off reflecting more deeply upon their faith by various writings, intimidated partly by the swarm of pointless questions, articles, and arguments, but also because essential information is being communicated under the constraints of textual commentary or academic debate, rather than sound educational methods, and because repetition breeds boredom and muddled thinking.

Eager, therefore, to avoid these and similar pitfalls, and trusting in the help of God, we shall try in this work to examine the claims of Christian teaching, and to be precise and clear in our language as far as the matter under discussion allows...

It is clear that Christian teaching employs human reason, not so as to prove anything because that would undermine the merit of believing, but rather in order to elucidate the implications of its thought. We should note that just as grace never scraps our human nature, but instead brings it to perfection, so in the same way our natural ability to reason should assist faith as the natural loving inclination of our will yields to charity."

The astounding thing about the Summa, which, unfortunately, didn't seem to register with me years ago, is that Thomas wrote it for beginners! And his avowed purpose in writing it is to present a "precise and clear" examination of what Christianity claims to teach. I don't get the impression, as perhaps I once did, that Thomas was simply a theological "authority" who was attempting to lay out the Church's "dogma" for people to accept, or else. He speaks about "discussion", about using "our natural ability to reason" to elucidate what we hold in faith. I suspect that Thomas always saw his work as but one interpretation of the Church's teachings: not the definitive statement for all time. Thomas also betrays the sign of a good teacher, I believe, in observing that "grace never scraps our human nature".

Looking back at the end of his life, Thomas is said to have considered his many writings as but "straw". We probably see that judgment as a bit severe, but it's understandable for a writer who realizes that one's thinking and insights change over time, who recognizes mistakes, perhaps. It also betrays Thomas' great humility and deep awareness of his relationship with Christ. He could never have imagined how many lives he would touch, not only by the Summa Theologica, but also by the other writings and hymns which he left us. Pretty good for a guy who'd been dubbed the "Dumb Ox" in his earlier years!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Conversion of St. Paul


No deed, no word,

No silent thought;

No joy, no grief;

No restlessness.

Not warm, not cold;

Not living, dead;

Not these -- but just


- Harry Allagree, 1955/56

Witness Through Hospitality

God of love, you have shown us your hospitality in Christ. We acknowledge that through sharing our gifts with one another, we meet you. Give us the grace to become one on our journey together and to recognize you in one another. In welcoming the stranger in your name may we become witnesses to your hospitality and your justice. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Witness Through Hope & Trust

God of hope, share with us your vision of all that the Church can become, and overcome our doubts. Increase our openness to your presence, that all who profess faith in you, whatever their beliefs, may worship together in spirit and in truth. We pray especially for all who live with doubt, or who find themselves in the shadow of danger and fear. Be with them and let them be aware of your consoling presence. Amen.

Carrying the Word Across

Back in the 1980’s I saw a “Dennis the Menace” cartoon in which Dennis’ father is opening the car door, while Dennis and his mother, who is carrying a Bible, are coming down the walkway. Off to the side is a little boy, obviously one of Dennis’ playmates, standing by his wagon with this sort of amazed and perplexed look on his face. Dennis waves to him and says: We’re going to church, Joey...but I’ll be myself again after lunch!” One of our greatest struggles as church people who so often hear and read God’s Word in the Bible is to resist going back to being ourselves again “after lunch”.

Martin Luther used to say that the Church is not a
Buchhaus (book house) but a Worthaus (Word house). By that I think he meant that our continual challenge is to translate, i.e., to carry across, the text of the Word. Like the Jews and Muslims, Christians are a people of the Book, and the Book of Scripture hopefully moves us to live in and through the Spirit by carrying that Word across. Our challenge is to translate the text of the Word into life, into action. It can be an interesting experience to simply read the Bible, but it’s another thing to let the Word impact us, to have its way with us in what we do and say.

We admiringly study the words and deeds of great prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, or those of Paul and John, but, if we’re honest, we find ourselves becoming somewhat uncomfortable and hesitant when those words face us with demands for action which we’re to take here and now. The challenge is always to translate, to
carry the Word across.

In each of today’s liturgical readings we find people hearing the Word of God, but being resistant to buy into the vision: people unable or unwilling to translate the text of God’s Word into action.

Nehemiah (8:1-3; 5-6; 8-10): The Persian king, Artaxerxes II, commissioned the Israelite priest and teacher, Ezra, to reestablish the worship life of the small Jewish remnant who had returned from exile. They were a depressed and needy lot. Though they had some general knowledge of Torah and of their Jewish heritage, they lacked understanding and, most of all, lacked a common vision for what could be in the rebuilding of their nation. Their leaders had failed before this time to enter the public square where they’re now standing to address the issues and to call for the necessary changes and decisions. The way to the future, they began to realize, was to go back to the Law, to Torah, given in the past: to hear it again and to have it interpreted, but to hear it in a new way, a way which would lead them to join together in action. By taking up the challenge of translating the text of God’s Word, they would be moved to renew God’s Covenant, to redirect their lives, to commit themselves to action on God’s behalf.

1 Corinthians (12:12-31a) : Paul’s congregation at Corinth had also heard the Word through his preaching. Yet, for all that, they were much divided among themselves by class, by ethnic roots, by odd religious pridefulness. Whoever the “members of the body who seem to be weaker” are in their community, they’re obviously not being served and cared for appropriately in Corinth. The members of the Corinthian church had gotten too comfortable getting back to being themselves “after lunch”, so to speak. They’d not learned to translate, to carry across, the text of God’s Word.

Luke ( 4:14-21): Here Jesus reads a text from the scroll of Isaiah against his own background and the needs
of his audience. The text of that Word would come to life in Jesus’ person and activity in his public ministry. He speaks not a dry, dead Word from the past, nor a Word which comforts and anesthetizes his hearers in the present, but a futuristic, a realistic and attainable Word, prompted by the Spirit’s presence, which announces a hands-on agenda of bringing good news to people in real need and freedom to people locked up in various forms of oppression and slavery. Luke makes it clear that Jesus’ challenge is for us to translate, to
carry across, the text. Jesus’ hearers then didn’t get, nor do people now like to hear, things like this. If you don’t believe that, listen to the rest of Luke’s narrative in the verses following this section:

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked. Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to me: ‘Physician, heal yourself! Do here in your hometown what we have heard that you did in Capernaum.’
‘I tell you the truth,’ he continued, ‘no prophet is accepted in his hometown. I assure you that there were many widows in Israel in Elijah’s time, when the sky was shut for three and a half years and there was a severe famine throughout the land. Yet Elijah was not sent to any of them, but to a widow in Zarephath in the region of Sidon. And there were many in Israel with leprosy in the time of Elisha the prophet, yet not one of them was cleansed -- only Naaman the Syrian.’
All the people in the synagogue were furious when they heard this. They got up, drove him out of the town, and took him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But he walked right through the crowd and went on his way.

Sometimes a preacher’s greatest criticism and indictment is to have someone come through the line at the end of a Sunday service and say, “
That was such a nice sermon.” A good preacher’s task, after all, is to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” It isn’t really very nice if you and I haven’t been challenged to translate, to carry the Word of God across, into hands-on action.

As you and I join together in prayer at the conclusion of this Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue, which ends tomorrow on the feast of St. Paul’s Conversion, our challenge is to
be the Church as a Wordhouse, not as a bookhouse, to learn together from our Lord and Master how to translate the text of the Word into visible and loving servanthood.

The late theologian, Walter Rast, professor at Valparaiso University in Indiana, once wrote: “
And here is a most poignant message for the modern church. Have not the divisions in the church often come about through lack of attention to the caring mission of the church? Some years ago the Swiss New Testament scholar Oscar Cullmann made the startling suggestion that the divided churches could well begin to find their way back toward a unity of belief and purpose if they would undertake common tasks of social concern. For two decades now such shared work has gone on among the churches, with great reserve in many quarters. But wherever it has occurred, at least the people in the pews have found themselves deepened in their understanding of the servant calling of the church.

We don’t know the full content of what Jesus preached that day in his hometown, Nazareth. One thing is certain: Jesus got their attention with what, in sales presentations when I was a salesman many years ago, we used to call a “ho-hum crasher”. His “ho-hum crasher” was this: “
Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Jesus isn’t just identifying this passage with his person; he’s speaking about what he’s already doing: his actions of bringing good news to the poor, release to the imprisoned, sight to those who cannot see.

The question is: has Jesus gotten our attention today? God’s love seeks out the needy and the oppressed at all times and under all conditions, everywhere, but only through you and me, his servants. As the servant body of Christ you and I must translate, must
carry across, must bring to life, the Word into action today on behalf of those referred to in Paul’s epistle as “weaker”, “less honorable”, “less respectable” in our society. As individuals and as communities of faith our responsibility, in light of God’s Word, is to address people’s immediate needs: to go even further and attempt to change the social and economic conditions which make people poor and needy. We have a responsibility to address the sad reality of the jail and prison systems in this country; to minister to victims of violence and abuse, especially women, children, and gay persons, to name a few; and to labor against the social inequalities which breed crime. As uncomfortable and repugnant and frightening as it may be we’re called to dirty our hands in what the late Richard John Neuhaus called the “naked public square”. Jesus, God’s Servant, has called us as followers, not as NIMBY’s: people whose response is: “Not in my backyard!

The challenge of translating the text of God’s Word into risk-taking service is, indeed, awesome. The first President Bush, George Herbert Walker Bush, said in his inaugural address: “
...let it be written in our hearts: ‘Use power to help people.’” God, in Jesus, has given us power to do that: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach the good news to the proclaim freedom for the prisoners...recovery of sight for the release the oppressed...

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Phillips Brooks: Pastor, Preacher, Bishop

Phillips Brooks was born in Boston, MA in 1835. Through his father, William Gray Brooks, he was descended from the Rev. John Cotton; through his mother, Mary Ann Phillips, a very devout woman, he was a great-grandson of Samuel Phillips, Jr., the founder of Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts. He and three of his six brothers -- Frederic, Arthur and John Cotton -- were ordained in the Episcopal Church.

Brooks attended the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard University in 1855 at the age of 20. After a brief period as a teacher at his alma mater, Boston Latin, he began his studies to become an Episcopal priest at Virginia Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, in 1856 .

He graduated from Virginia Theological Seminary in 1859, and was ordained deacon by Bishop William Meade of Virginia, and assigned as rector of the Church of the Advent, Philadelphia. In 1860 he was ordained priest, and two years later, in 1862, became rector of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Philadelphia. He remained here for seven years, gaining an increasing name as a preacher and patriot. He was a man of great physical bearing, standing six feet four inches tall.
During the American Civil War he upheld the cause of the North and opposed slavery. In 1869 he became rector of Trinity Church, Boston, where his memorial statue can be seen on the left exterior of the church.

"[My only ambition]", Brooks once wrote "is to be a parish priest and, though not much of one, would as a college president be still less". His sermons, for which he was so famous, reflect his sincere interest in the sacramental elements of the faith. Under his inspiration architect, H. H. Richardson, muralist John La Farge, and stained glass artists, William Morris and Edward Burne Jones, created an architectural masterpiece in Trinity Church, Boston. Among the notable features was the first free-standing liturgical altar in the United States within an overall chancel design which attracted attention even in British architectural magazines for its being influenced by the Liturgical Movement. Behind the free-standing altar there was an another revival from the early church chancel: a great synthranon for priests, i.e., a continuous bank of connected clergy seats running all around the apse. Because Massachusetts had two bishops at that time, the bishops' chairs were placed inside the altar rail to either side of the holy table. There were no choir stalls to distract from the central altar, which was hardly recognized as an altar in a period when most altars were placed in front of elaborate carved screens. Also, until 1888, there was no pulpit. Brooks preferred to use a modest lectern near the rector's stall on the south side of the chancel. An eagle lectern stood on a balustraded ambo in the center at the chancel steps.

Such was the magnificence of Trinity Church that in his chapter on Phillips Brooks' chancel in Ralph Adams Cram: An Architect's Four Quests, Douglass Shand-Tucci calls it "an American Hagia Sophia", a reflection of Brooks' architectural and liturgical tastes. His feelings on these matters are disclosed in his travel writings, where in Germany, for instance, he referred to "thrilling music" and "thrilling incense" with respect to a liturgy he attended there in the Roman Catholic cathedral. Holy Week in Rome also greatly moved him, especially the Papal high Mass on Easter. Although he despaired of Anglo-Catholic ritualism, he championed many aspects of the Liturgical Movement, including congregational singing at the liturgy. At the Eucharist Brooks would preach, not from the pulpit, but from the chancel steps, and, although he liked to preach in a black academic gown, he never failed to appear in a commodious surplice and stole when he officiating at the Office or the Eucharist.

In 1877 the building of Trinity was completed, but since they could not then afford them, the Venetian mosaics which Brooks and Richardson wanted were not possible. Once the magnificent new altar and sanctuary, designed by Maginnis and Walsh, became a reality in 1938, then Trinity's chancel reflected that aspect of Brooks' dreams for Trinity, what he called "America's glory forever". Here Phillips Brooks preached Sunday after Sunday to great congregations, until he became a bishop.

For many years he was an overseer and preacher at Harvard University, but in 1881 he declined an invitation to be the sole preacher at the university, as well as professor of Christian ethics. In 1886 Brooks also declined election as assistant bishop of Pennsylvania. On April 30, 1891 he was elected the sixth Bishop of Massachusetts, and was consecrated on October 14 at Trinity Church.

Phillips Brooks died, unmarried, in 1893, only 15 months after becoming Bishop. His death marked a major event in Boston's history. One observer reported: "They buried him like a king. Harvard students carried his body on their shoulders. All barriers of denomination were down. Roman Catholics and Unitarians felt that a great man had fallen in Israel."

There are volumes of his excellent sermons still available today, but simply reading them, one misses the most important element: the warmth and strength of the one who composed and delivered them. In the words of David Veal [Saints Galore], Phillips Brooks "had a real gift for warming the hearts and stimulating the minds of his listeners. James Bryce wrote, 'There was no sign of art about his preaching, no touch of self-consciousness. He spoke to his audience as a man might speak to his friend...' He preached sound Christian doctrine to listeners who ostensibly had no interest in such -- and he got by with it! Although he was theologically quite orthodox and conservative, he came to be considered a "liberal" leader in his day simply because of his concern and interest in the social and intellectual issues of the times."

Witness Through Faithfulness to the Scriptures

Faithful God, we praise and thank you for your saving Word as it reaches out to us through the Sacred Scriptures. We thank you too for the sisters and brothers with whom we share your Word and discover together the abundance of your love. We pray for the light of the Holy Spirit, so that your Word may lead and direct us in our quest for greater unity. Amen.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Witness Through Suffering

Loving God, look with compassion on our poverty, suffering, sin and death; we ask your forgiveness, healing, comfort and support in our ordeals. We give thanks for all who manage to see light despite their affliction. May your divine Spirit teach us the greatness of your compassion and help us stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in difficulty. Filled with its blessings, may we in unity proclaim and share with the world the victory of your Son who lives for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

St. Fabian: Touched By God

When I was giving a lot of retreats 40 years ago, particularly for young people, I often used the lyrics to a song made very popular at the time by Barbra Streisand,
He Touched Me, written by Milton Schafer and Ira Levin, and published by Edwin H. Morris & Co.:
He touched me
He put his hand near mine
And then, he touched me...

He knew it,
It wasn't accidental, no, he knew it...

I know
He's real,
and the world is alive and shining
I feel such a wonderful drive t'wards valentining...

He touched me
And suddenly nothing is the same...

In 236 Fabian the Farmer just happened to come to Rome to join in as one of the crowd in seeing how a new Pope was elected. Only, God put the "touch" on Fabian, in the form of a dove who lit on his shoulder. And before he knew it he was chosen as Pope! Woodeene Koenig-Bricker remarks in her 365 Saints: "One can't help but wonder what Fabian told his family. 'You'll never guess what happened to me! I was just minding my own business when a bird sat on my head, and now I'm pope!' While such spectacular (and unusual) events are unlikely to happen to any of us, God does touch each of us every day..." Unfortunately for Fabian, the Emperor Decius also put the touch on him 14 years later and had him beheaded: the first truly authenticated martyrdom of a Roman bishop.

God's touch brought me into this world.
God's touch gave me new life in Baptism.
For all the years of my life, day in, day out, God continues to touch me in wondrous, suprising ways.
Who knows where God's future touch will direct or affect me?

Witness Through Awareness

Lord Jesus, Good Shepherd, You encounter us and remain with us in everyday life. We pray for the grace to be aware of all You do for us. We ask that you prepare us to be open to all You offer us and bring us together in one flock. Amen.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Wulfstan: The Vegetarian Monk-Bishop

Did you know that St. Wulfstan is the patron of vegetarians and dieters? Yep! Legend has it that Wulfstan became distracted one day, while celebrating the Eucharist, with the smell of meat roasting in the kitchen. From that day, it is said, he vowed never to eat meat again. His whole life's story, spanning 87 years, is most interesting, and I recommend that you read Fr. John Julian's account in his book, Stars In a Dark World, pp. 31-34.

Born around 1008-09, Wulfstan was educated in monastic schools, entered religious life, was ordained priest, joined the Benedictines at Worcester Cathedral, and remained there in the capacities of master of the boys' school, cantor, sacristan, and prior until 1062 when he was consecrated Bishop of Worcester. As bishop he carefully and gently nurtured both Church and State through the transition from Anglo-Saxon to Norman rule. He died at Worcester in 1095.

Here is just a hint of what he was like as a person, taken from William of Malmesbury's The Life of Wulfstan:

"Having been consecrated a bishop, Wulfstan immediately turned his mind to works of piety...He loved preaching, and always spoke about Christ, resolutely setting Christ before his hearers so that even the most reluctant might hear his name. In his personal discipline, in vigils and in fasting, he was no less rigorous. His prayers assaulted heaven...

Wulfstan maintained a balanced life, never relinquishing his two-fold calling. Although bishop, he remained obedient to the discipline of the monastic life: as a monk, his way of life revealed the authority of a bishop. His integrity singled him out from his contemporaries. To any who came to him for counsel, he was full of wisdom and accessible... He would never seek the patronage of the rich or reject the poor for their poverty. He was unmoved by flattery... When he was praised for a good deed, Wulfstan praised the grace of God that had made it possible...His heart was always glad and his face bright...He built many churches in the diocese...Foremost among these was the cathedral church of Worcester...The number of monks in the cathedral monastery increased and he brought them under the Rule of the Order..."

Witness Through Sharing Stories

God of history, we thank you for all who have shared their story of faith with us and so have given witness to your presence in their lives. We praise you for the variety of our stories both as individuals and churches. In these stories we see the unfolding of the one story of Jesus Christ. We pray for the courage and the conviction to share our faith with those with whom we come into contact, and so allow the message of your Word to spread to all. Amen.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Oneness In Love - Not Optional

"As a rabbi who directs a multifaith center in a Christian seminary, I often get asked about multifaith education...But rarely am I asked, 'Why should we be doing interfaith education at all?' A rabbinic colleague of mine put it to me this way: 'I just can't articulate why interfaith is important to focus on,' he said. 'Other than making sure we can all just get along, why does this matter?' he asked...

I do not embrace a 'why don't we all just get along' attitude toward interfaith work, and I do not believe that the world would be a better place if people of faith would just focus on a few so-called universal teachings from their religious traditions..." (Justus N. Baird, a rabbi and the director of the Center for Multifaith Education at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York City)

You and I, individually and collectively as the Church, all have a unique call from God to do God's work. The key idea here is that it is God's call and God's work. Anything you and I do as followers of Jesus is guided by what he wants, not by what we want. Jesus prays: "...that all may be one as you, Father, are in me, and I in you; I pray that they may be one in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." Christians and churches need to move beyond the mistaken notion that working for ecumenical/interfaith oneness is an optional churchly activity, the sort of thing you do if you're "into it", but if you're not you get on with parish business as usual. When he visited the United States in 1987, John Paul II said:

"We are definitely committed to treading the [ecumenical] path which the
Holy Spirit has opened before us...and it is no small achievement of the
ecumenical movement that after centuries of mistrust, we humbly and
sincerely recognize in each other's communities the presence and
fruitfulness of Christ's gifts at work. Christ's call to unity is at the same
time a call to holiness and a call to greater love...Only by accepting
Christ as Lord of our lives can we empty ourselves of any negative
thinking about each other."

His words echo those of John Wesley: "The pretences for separation are innumerable but want of love is always the real cause."

The inner renewal necessary to accomplish Christ's vision requires our willingness to acknowledge our own unlovingness, our abrasiveness and rigidity in judging others, our inability, of ourselves, to hold out anything but "the sweet miracle of our empty hands", in the words of George Bernanos, to God and to one another. Thomas Merton expresses similar thoughts in his April 28, 1957 journal entry in A Search for Solitude:Pursuing the Monk's True Life: "If I can unite in myself the thought and the devotion of Eastern and Western Christendom, the Greek and the Latin Fathers, the Russian with the Spanish mystics, I can prepare in myself the reunion of divided Christians. From that secret and unspoken unity in myself can eventually come a visible and manifest unity of all Christians. If we want to bring together what is divided, we can not do so by imposing one division upon the other. If we do this, the union is not Christian. It is political and doomed to further conflict. We must contain all the divided worlds in ourselves and transcend them in Christ."

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Being There

First, I want to point out that tomorrow, the feast of the Confession of St. Peter, and continuing through next Monday, January 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Church celebrates a Week of Prayer for Unity and Interreligious Dialogue. Though originally designed and commonly understood to pray for Christian unity, in more recent years it has widened in scope to include interfaith involvement.

This ecumenical week began in the little New York community of Peekskill, specifically on a remote hillside 5 miles away, called Graymoor, home to a small Episcopal religious community of friars and sisters, who were quite controversial and unpopular in the Episcopal Church. At a time when religious community members were often suspected as “advance agents” for a Roman Catholic takeover of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Graymoor Franciscans, “eccentrics”, as they were called, did very little to allay such suspicions.

Fr. Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, co-founders of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, quite openly advocated for a reunion of Anglicans with Rome and recognition of the papacy. Most Protestants and even some Catholics were astounded by the idea. Because of their committed stance, the Graymoors were under enormous pressure from church leaders and editors to abandon their efforts. Fr. Paul was shunned in most Episcopal pulpits, and Mother Lurana had to literally send her sisters out begging just to keep the Society of the Atonement alive.

Nevertheless, Fr. Paul and Mother Lurana pursued their perceived God-given mission: to seek a coming together of divided Christian churches. The idea of a period of prayer for Christian unity came up in a conversation between Fr. Wattson and an Anglican clergyman in England, The Rev. Spencer Jones. In the autumn of 1907, Fr. Jones suggested an annual day of prayer for Christian unity. Fr. Wattson concurred, but simultaneously conceived the idea of a Church Unity Week or “Octave”, to be observed for eight days between January 18 and 25, the dates of the two feasts mentioned earlier. The first attempt at the observance, held in the small, gloomy Graymoor chapel in 1908, met with lukewarm response, at best.

Fr. Paul and Mother Lurana, because of their pro-Roman leanings, finally asked to be admitted into the Roman Catholic Church, and in October, 1909, Pius X received the whole Society of the Atonement as a body. Eventually, the Octave became very popular, but almost exclusively in the Roman Catholic Church. Other Christian bodies held observances of their own, more compatible with their theology and spirituality.

A number of historical movements towards Christian unity, from the 18th century on, preceded the Graymoors’ efforts. In the 19th century, the desire for Christians to pray together was occasioned by the divisions which weakened the power of Christian witness. In 1846 the Evangelical Alliance was established in London and developed both international and inter-church connections. The Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians was founded in 1857 with Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox participation. The Popes had consistently urged Roman Catholics to pray for Christian unity, but only from the particular stance of return to the Roman Catholic fold. The Lambeth Conferences, particularly in 1878, during this period also promoted prayer for Christian unity. In 1913 the Faith and Order Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church issued a number of publications for Christian unity, and the preparatory Conference on Faith and Order at Geneva in 1920 appealed for a special week of prayer for Christian unity. Faith and Order continued to issue "Suggestions for an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity" until 1941 when it changed the dates for its week to that of the January Octave. In this way, Christians, who for reasons of conscience, could not join with others in prayer services could still share in united prayer at a specific time.
In 1935 Abbé Paul Couturier, a French priest, addressed this problem by promoting prayer for Christian unity on the inclusive basis that "
our Lord would grant to his Church on earth that peace and unity which were in his mind and purpose, when, on the eve of His Passion, He prayed that all might be one." A huge ecumenical step was taken in 1964 with the issuing of the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican Council II. The Decree was clear for Roman Catholics: "In certain special circumstances, such as in prayer services for unity and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable, that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren.

Today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue belongs to all people of faith who wish, as Jesus did, "that all may be one". The formation of official ecumenical dialogues among Christians and between non-Christian bodies reinforces the value of such a yearly observance.

Now, how is the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity connected with the Scriptures for this 2nd Sunday after the Epiphany? The Gospel’s main message is that Jesus, in his Person, in the first sign of his public ministry, reveals to us God’s Presence. We live in a world of signs and of sign-making. Our signs attempt to communicate, to convey, a message. They’re attempts to be there, to be present, to another person(s). St. John today describes Jesus dealing with people in the way that we know best: by signs, by words.

This particular Gospel chapter [John 2:1-11] is part of a section (extending from Chapter 1:19 through Chapter 12) which scholars refer to as the Book of Signs. These chapters show Jesus using signs, miracles, if you will; and words. particularly the discourses explaining the signs, in his public ministry to re + veal = lit., to pull back the veil, to uncover: to communicate and convey to his hearers that what they see in his person is the very Presence of God.

The story of the wedding at Cana, a unique story and one found only in John’s Gospel, is familiar, though all the dynamics aren’t so clear. John says that Mary was there at the celebration and that Jesus and the disciples had also been invited. Some suggest that the wine supply, which, according to Jewish custom, depended somewhat on gifts of wine from the guests, ran short perhaps because Jesus and his disciples, poor itinerants that they were, didn’t bring enough. At any rate, Mary makes Jesus aware that the newly-weds are facing an embarrassing situation: “They have no wine.” Jesus replies: “Woman, what has this concern of yours to do with me? My hour has not yet come.

I suspect I know what some of you’re thinking upon reading that -- something like: “Why is Jesus acting like such a jerk towards his mother with this snarky reply?” The fact is: he’s not! Quite the contrary. Jesus addresses Mary as “Woman”, both here and at the Crucifixion, with a polite word of greatest respect. There’s no hint of rebuke of rejection. What Jesus’ comment implies is a denial of a role, not of a person. He insists that human kinship, of whatever kind, can’t affect the pattern of his ministry. He has his Father’s work to do, according to the Father's timing, and in order to do that he places himself beyond natural family ties and relationships, as he later indicates is part of being a disciple.

But Mary, like any good Jewish mother, persists! As evident from other places in the Gospels, persistence always seems to result in Jesus acting. Mary’s persistence becomes the occasion for Jesus’ first sign, the initiation of his ministry. Mary simply says: “Do whatever he tells you.” Such willingness to rely on Jesus’ sovereignty prepares the way for a miracle, a new beginning.

The imagery of a wedding feast hearkens back to the messianic days in the Hebrew Scriptures. As water is replaced with choice wine, so are the old customs replaced with Jesus’ new teaching. The steward’s response: “You have kept the good wine until now” surely hints at and proclaims the hope given by the Presence of the Messiah, the Holy One of God.

Note, too, that there were six stone water jars, each holding 15-25 gallons! By my count, that’s about 90-150 gallons of choice wine. Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah and the other prophets had spoken of an abundance of wine as a sign, a prefiguring, for the joy which would characterize the final days when God’s Holy One finally came. What joy there must have been at this feast!

When you put all the symbolism in this Gospel together, and we’ve only scratched the surface here, this first sign of Jesus clearly communicates and conveys that he is God’s Holy One, the One who embodies God’s very Presence, the Revelation of divine glory: again, a sign of the last times, when the Messiah would make the Lord’s glory visible in all the earth. As John’s Gospel unfolds, along with the other three Gospel accounts, we’re given a picture of Jesus, a Man whose words and actions embody love, healing, wisdom, compassion, service, prayerfulness. And it is this Man who is also God’s Son who calls each of us to embody those same characteristics in our relationships with each other and with others.

In the first reading [Isaiah 62:1-5] Isaiah compels us not to “keep silent”, “not [to] rest” in our ministry as the Church. Our “builder” has married us, Isaiah proclaims. As the bridegroom rejoices in his bride, “so shall your God rejoice over you”. Paul, in the Epistle [1 Corinthians 12:1-11], also confirms that you and I as signs of that same Presence are to use our Spirit-given gifts to build up the “common good”. To do this is to proclaim that “Jesus is Lord.” And this ministry of ours as the Church, in Christ, extends to all our ecumenical and interfaith relationships, among many others.

We’re all aware of the horrific earthquake tragedy this week in Haiti. This gives even more poignancy and urgency to what the Scriptures say to you and me. As the Church we need to be in solidarity, present, even as Christ, God’s Holy One, is, to our Haitian sisters and brothers, in whatever way we can: by donations to their cause (e.g., Episcopal Relief & Development), by support of their relatives in this country, by relief efforts, etc., but certainly and primarily by earnest and continual prayer.

A dear deceased Trappist monk friend of mine, Fr. Brendan Hanratty, once sent me this quote: “The schisms, persecutions, and polemics of our yesterdays [today] begin to assume a certain unreality...As the Christian world once split on the dipthong, so have Christians killed each other for a definition. That they should quarrel and divide within the great area of mystery created by the Incarnation, which they share and live by, becomes increasingly unacceptable. The most elementary lesson of a faith held in common is to love, and so to understand one another...

May it be so for us!

Friday, January 15, 2010

The Drum Major Instinct

(From his sermon “The Drum Major Instinct”,
given on February 4, 1968 - 2 months to the day before he died)

...And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. (Amen) That's a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, (Everybody) because everybody can serve. (Amen) You don't have to have a college degree to serve. (All right) You don't have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don't have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don't have to know Einstein's theory of relativity to serve. You don't have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. (Amen) You only need a heart full of grace, (Yes, sir, Amen) a soul generated by love. (Yes) And you can be that servant.

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I'm talking about as I go down the way (Yeah) because he was a great one. And he just went about serving. He was born in an obscure village, (Yes, sir) the child of a poor peasant woman. And then he grew up in still another obscure village, where he worked as a carpenter until he was thirty years old. (Amen) Then for three years, he just got on his feet, and he was an itinerant preacher. And he went about doing some things. He didn't have much. He never wrote a book. He never held an office. He never had a family. (Yes) He never owned a house. He never went to college. He never visited a big city. He never went two hundred miles from where he was born. He did none of the usual things that the world would associate with greatness. He had no credentials but himself.

He was only thirty-three when the tide of public opinion turned against him. They called him a rabble-rouser. They called him a troublemaker. They said he was an agitator. (Glory to God) He practiced civil disobedience; he broke injunctions. And so he was turned over to his enemies and went through the mockery of a trial. And the irony of it all is that his friends turned him over to them. (Amen) One of his closest friends denied him. Another of his friends turned him over to his enemies. And while he was dying, the people who killed him gambled for his clothing, the only possession that he had in the world. (Lord help him) When he was dead he was buried in a borrowed tomb, through the pity of a friend.

Nineteen centuries have come and gone and today he stands as the most influential figure that ever entered human history. All of the armies that ever marched, all the navies that ever sailed, all the parliaments that ever sat, and all the kings that ever reigned put together (Yes) have not affected the life of man on this earth (Amen) as much as that one solitary life. His name may be a familiar one. (Jesus) But today I can hear them talking about him. Every now and then somebody says, "He's King of Kings." (Yes) And again I can hear somebody saying, "He's Lord of Lords." Somewhere else I can hear somebody saying, "In Christ there is no East nor West." (Yes) And then they go on and talk about, "In Him there's no North and South, but one great Fellowship of Love throughout the whole wide world." He didn't have anything. (Amen) He just went around serving and doing good.

This morning, you can be on his right hand and his left hand if you serve. (Amen) It's the only way in. Every now and then I guess we all think realistically (Yes, sir) about that day when we will be victimized with what is life's final common denominator—that something that we call death. We all think about it. And every now and then I think about my own death and I think about my own funeral. And I don't think of it in a morbid sense. And every now and then I ask myself, "What is it that I would want said?" And I leave the word to you this morning. If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. (Yes) And every now and then I wonder what I want them to say. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school. (Yes)

I'd like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others. (Yes)
I'd like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. (Amen)
I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. (Yes)
And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. (Yes)
I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. (Lord)
I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity. (Yes)

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. (Amen) Say that I was a drum major for peace. (Yes) I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. (Yes) I won't have any money to leave behind. I won't have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. (Amen) And that's all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,
If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,
If I can show somebody he's traveling wrong,
Then my living will not be in vain.
If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,
If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,
If I can spread the message as the master taught,
Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, (Yes) not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world.