Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped 
and his face to be spit upon:  Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings 
of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; 
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,  who lives and reigns 
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The name Tenebrae (the Latin word for “darkness” or “shadows”) has for centuries been applied to the ancient monastic night and early morning services (Matins and Lauds) of the last three days of Holy Week, which in medieval times came to be celebrated on the preceding evenings.

Apart from the chant of the Lamentations (in which each verse is introduced by a letter of the Hebrew alphabet), the most conspicuous feature of the service is the gradual extinguishing of candles and other lights in the church until only a single candle, considered a symbol of our Lord, remains. Toward the end of the service this candle is hidden, typifying the apparent victory of the forces of evil. At the very end, a loud noise (strepitus) is made, symbolizing the earthquake at the time of the resurrection (Matthew 28:2), the hidden candle is restored to its place, and by its light all depart in silence.

It is highly appropriate for Tenebrae to be celebrated on Wednesday evening in Holy Week, in order that the proper liturgies of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday may find their place as the principal services of those days. By drawing upon material from each of the former three offices of Tenebrae, this service provides an extended meditation upon, and a prelude to, the events in our Lord’s life between the Last Supper and the Resurrection.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday In Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever  and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Letting Go To Keep

Palm Sunday. And so Holy Week begins again.

My first real full-fledged experience with Holy Week began in my first year in seminary, in 1952. The liturgy of the palm blessing, the joyous procession, the singing of the Passion in parts, the simple Eucharist, all so enveloped me that I felt no longer that I was a spectator, but a participant. I was captivated by the somber and dramatic celebration of Tenebrae, with sung Psalms and Lessons, on Wednesday in Holy Week; touched to the heart by the Maundy Thursday washing of feet and Eucharist, followed by the unsettling stripping of the altar and sanctuary down to the last moveable object; enveloped in a sea of sorrow throughout the stark liturgy of Good Friday: with the ministers' quiet entrance and prostration, shoeless, before the altar; the poignant singing of Solemn Collects; the veneration of the cross which brought us to an oh-so-personal level of realization; and the simple receiving of Christ's Body and Blood. Then, the pièce de résistance: the Great Vigil of Easter. The striking of the flint for new fire; the solid and stately Paschal candle, leading us ever deeper into the darkness which amazingly became more and more illuminated because of other candles being lit from the Paschal candle. "The light of Christ." "Thanks be to God." And finally a burst of light from every lamp in the church and every candle on the altar! Ever since that time tears flow easily at hearing the glorious Exsultet sung, in Latin or in English! "Rejoice now, heavenly hosts and choirs of angels...Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth...Rejoice and be glad now, Mother Church...This is the night, when all who believe in Christ are delivered...and restored to grace and holiness of life...This is the night, when Christ...rose victorious from the grave..."

Just at the time I was experiencing this for the first time, The Rev. Dr. Pius Parsch (1884-1954), a native of Moravia, a Roman Catholic priest, and a Canon Regular of St. Augustine, began publishing a five-volume commentary, entitled The Church's Year of Grace. Parsch's given name was John Bruno, but he was given the name Pius when he entered the community of Canons Regular at Klosterneuburg Abbey. He became one of the most significant figures in the Liturgical Movement, publishing the results of his fresh liturgical scholarship in popularly accessible books in German, some of which were translated into English: The Liturgy of the Mass (1940), The Breviary Explained (1952), and The Church's Year of Grace (1953). I was lucky enough to have been exposed to the Year of Grace early on.

Fr. Parsch had many wonderful theological and liturgical insights, many of which still, unfortunately, haven't filtered down into the popular mind. Regarding Holy Week, he says: "The greatest and holiest of weeks is about to begin. We should not call it a week of mourning, for Cross and resurrection are inseparable...The liturgy does not make this week one of sorrowful lamentation or tearful sympathizing with our suffering Lord. That was the medieval approach. No, through the whole week there runs a note of victory and joy, a realization that Christ's sacred passion was a prerequisite to Easter glory. We cannot understand the Church's liturgy unless we keep this in mind..."

Palm Sunday is a good example. In the Liturgy of the Palms, we celebrate Christ, the victorious king of glory. We pray in that liturgy: "...that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby [he] has given us life and immortality..."; and "...grant that we...may ever hail him as our King, and follow him...who...reigns in glory..." For this part of the liturgy the liturgical color is a rich, scarlet red. We bear festive palm branches and demonstrate visibly, through song and procession, our joy and pride in our leader, Jesus, the King of Glory.

In the Liturgy of the Passion Eucharist, we celebrate Jesus, emptying himself, even to death, death on a cross. In this liturgy we pray: "...whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified..."; and "...Mercifully grant that we may walk in the way of his suffering, and also share in his resurrection..." Here the festive red gives way to Lenten purple. The mood shifts as we take part in the solemn and sobering reading of the Lord's Passion and death.

Some time back, I read this in a publication called The Daybook: A Contemplative Journal:

Spring is never easy. She can’t seem to make up her mind, one day balmy and the next drizzly, one day anxious for summer’s fields...She lives by fits and starts, delays, and pronounced mood swings...

The only way to live spring is to let her be, to allow her to pass through us. When we are young a certain degree of flexing ourselves against life is proper. How else can we learn our own strength? But resistance is unbecoming in the mature. Rage against the coming of the night only leaves us empty and spent! Little is ever wrenched from life by force. When we give up battling, we find what we are looking for....What we really want can only be ours when we stop grasping for it. If we stop the struggle, what we want comes one day almost uninvited...We pound away on the anvil of our thoughts in hopes of an answer, but it is not until we let go the struggle that the answer comes...

Ultimately spring teaches us that to fight against what
is is foolishness. When the cherry blossom falls and you suddenly realize that you only have so many days to be with the one you love, fall with the petal. Love is in the falling, not the staying. The life we desperately want comes to us when we cease clutching it...We can only have each other as we let each other go...

Jesus let go. He “
fell with the petal”. This is what Palm Sunday is all about. “...He humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death -- even death on a cross. Therefore, God [also] highly exalted him...
The life we desperately want comes to us when we cease clutching it.

The humbling of Jesus doesn’t refer so much to his Incarnation, but to his voluntarily serving others, to the point of death, without any assurance that what he did would be vindicated or justified. Jesus bids us to live our version of abasement and exaltation, of “
letting go to keep”. You and I are called to honor others by becoming as a servant to them, to become obedient even to the point of inconvenience, mistrust, or, perhaps, ridicule.

Without this, we may celebrate the mystery of Jesus‘ death and resurrection this week, but we’ll never understand it. Julian of Norwich remind us: “
God gives joy freely as it pleases him, and sometimes he allows us to be in sorrow, and both come from his love.” In one of her other showings Jesus says to Julian: “Since I have set right the greatest of harms, it is my will that I shall set right everything which is less.

In our lives the joy of Easter resurrection lies ahead of us and it is real. But there must first be the dying, the humbling, the letting-go: even as it was for Jesus. There must be, as Julian says, “the Passion of our Lord as comfort to us against the purging pain caused by our sins...He comforts readily and sweetly with his words, and says: ‘But all shall be well, and every kind of thing shall be well...'

The Mighty Acts of Salvation

Assist us mercifully with your help, O Lord God of our salvation, that we may enter with joy upon the contemplation of those mighty acts, whereby you have given us life and immortality; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

O Lord, in your goodness you bestow abundant graces on your elect: Look with favor, we entreat you, upon those who in these Lenten days are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant them the help of your protection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Accepting Salvation With Joy

O Lord, you relieve our necessity out of the abundance of your great riches: Grant that we may accept with joy the salvation you bestow, and manifest it to all the world by the quality of our lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Annunciation

"Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you..."

"Do not be afraid..."

"The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you..."

"...nothing will be impossible with God..."

"Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word..."

What is there left to say?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Renew...Increase...Strengthen...Enlighten...Widen...Make Us Ready

Almighty God our heavenly Father, renew in us the gifts of your mercy; increase our faith, strengthen our hope, enlighten our understanding, widen our charity, and make us ready to serve you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

An Imperishable & Eternal Seed

Almighty God, through the incarnate Word you have caused us to be born anew of an imperishable and eternal seed:
Look with compassion upon those who are being prepared for Holy Baptism, and grant that they may be built as livingstones into a spiritual temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and theHoly Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 22, 2010

"Love You and Of Your Commandments"

Be gracious to your people, we entreat you, O Lord, that they, repenting day by day of the things that displease you, may be more and more filled with love of you and of your commandments; and, being supported by your grace in this life, may come to the full enjoyment of eternal life in your everlasting kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Fixed Hearts Amid Swift & Varied Changes

(Photo: David Reece)

Almighty God, you alone can bring into order
the unruly wills and affections of sinners:
Grant your people grace to love what you command
and desire what you promise;
that, among the swift and varied changes of the world,
our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
(Collect for the 5th Sunday of Lent)

My son, Andrew, was down the last two weeks with another episode in his ongoing illness. Thanks to God, he managed to stay out of the hospital this time, and is finally responding to the medications prescribed by his doctor. When I spoke to him on Wednesday his speech was still bad enough that I could barely understand him; he called me yesterday and spoke almost normally. "Swift and varied changes..." I think of Sandra Bullock. After lifelong struggles, she found peace and stability in a marriage finally, five years ago. Her acting continued to get better and recently she achieved, somewhat unexpectedly, what Hollywood considers the pinnacle: a Golden Globe Award and an Oscar. Not just an Oscar, but one in competition with the likes of Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren! Just after that, almost literally overnight, after repeatedly expressing her love and trust in her husband and her gratitude for his help, she's devastated with news of his betrayal of her through an extramarital affair. Hopes and dreams crushed. Betrayal by the one closest to her. "Swift and varied changes..."

Neither of these examples is particularly unique, except in the uniqueness of the persons undergoing them. You and I have all had a taste of the "swift and varied changes" of life. Something or someone is there, then suddenly is not. And so it should be somewhat comforting for you and me to pray the words above: "Grant [us] grace...that, among the swift and varied changes of the world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found..."

The Gospel for today's liturgy (John 12:1-8) relates to all this. Actually, the other two readings (Isaiah 43:16-21 and Philippians 3:4b-14) do the same. John tells us about a dinner gathering in Jesus' honor at the Bethany home of close friends: two sisters and their brother, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. From the context, it's also fair to assume that the Twelve who followed Jesus in his preaching ministry were also there. A motley crew, indeed, and one wonders what each of them was thinking as the evening progressed. John notes, though we could have guessed it from an earlier story, that Martha was the cook, the maître-d', and the waitress. Lazarus would surely have commanded lots of attention, since he only recently emerged, at Jesus' command, from the darkness of his tomb, burial bindings and all! The tempo of events picks up when Mary suddenly brings forth a one-pound container of pure spikenard or nard.
Spikenard (nardostachys grandiflora), also called nard, nardin, or muskroot is a flowering plant of the Valerian family. It grows to about 1 millimeter in height and has pink, bell-shaped flowers. Spikenard rhizomes (underground stems) can be crushed and distilled into an intensely aromatic amber-colored essential oil, very thick in consistency. Nard oil was used as a perfume, an incense, a sedative, and as an herbal medicine.

The nard which Mary used was very costly and pure-grade: John says that "the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume..." Mary pours it on Jesus' feet, spreading it around, covering them, then proceeds to wipe his feet with her hair, presumably of some length. What appears to be an unusually lavish, sensuous, obviously loving extravagance makes absolute sense, given Jesus' words to Judas, "...She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial...", and given the events which transpired between Lazarus' raising and the evening of this meal. John tells us in the previous chapter that, after Jesus raised Lazarus, many eyewitnesses began to believe Jesus, while some others ran to the Pharisees with a report of what Jesus had done. The Pharisees were so exercised by it all that they and the chief priests called a special meeting of the council to deal with this. "What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation..." Caiaphas, one the high priests, verbalized a strategy: " is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed..." From then on "they planned to put him to death".

Jesus and his band of followers certainly realized what was going on because, as John notes, " longer walked about openly among the Jews, but went from there to a town called Ephraim...and he remained there with the disciples." As Passover approached people were, as it were, placing bets on whether Jesus would show up for the great Feast. Ominously, according to John, "...the chief priests and the Pharisees had given orders that anyone who knew where Jesus was should let them know, so that they might arrest him." So, though Jesus, his disciples, and his host friends enjoyed each other's company over a meal, one can imagine the underlying tension which must have gripped them all. Before, Jesus and the religious leaders had had differences of opinion, disagreements, all of which had, over time, escalated. This was now serious business. And everyone knew it.

Mary, sensitive as she was and attached as she was to the one constant figure in her life, aside from her sister and brother, probably anticipated that things might get pretty rough. Once the worst happened to Jesus, would she even get the chance to pay her last respects by anointing the body? So, in her generous and emotional gesture, she does it beforehand. Judas, the group's treasurer, was apparently dealing with his own demons at the time. He most likely wouldn't have had his position among the Twelve had there not been some sort of close relationship with The Master. But, for whatever reason, that wasn't enough for Judas. Perhaps he was torn between loyalty to this humble, seemingly un-streetwise itinerant preacher, and his own sense of justice, his sense of urgency for something or someone to break the oppressive Roman stranglehold on his society overseen by Pilate and supported by the corrupted religious establishment. John describes him here as "the one who was about to betray him..." Might that not imply that Judas hadn't yet made up his mind definitively? that he was inwardly struggling? Whatever it was, Judas who'd had his hand in the till from time to time, according to John, criticizes Mary for her extravagance and puts forth a hypocritical statement in behalf of the poor. Jesus doesn't let his rudeness pass: "Leave her alone...You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me." Jesus, like us all, was subject to the "swift and varied changes of the world". Yet his heart and soul were "surely there...fixed where true joys are to be found": in his Father and in the Father's will.

I find myself wondering what each of the dinner guests was thinking, given this whole context. I imagine each of them posing to themselves the question, "Who is this man to me, really?" Now that not only Jesus but each of them was threatened, surely with increased opposition because of their association, but also perhaps even with death like him, where could they turn for security? Paul, in the Philippians reading, talks about all with which he'd been blessed in his life. He was a "Hebrew born of Hebrews", a true-blue Jew, if ever there was one! His credentials were impeccable, and he was truly serious about his commitment to his Jewish faith. But all that had gotten messed up on a trip to Damascus, where he was literally knocked off his high-horse. Things changed: swiftly and in more ways than he could count. And now, looking back, he says he regards as "rubbish", which, if you didn't know it, is equivalent to something like "manure", itself a euphemism for our contemporary slang term, "B.S.". He sees everything as "loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord..." Everything else swiftly changes, evaporates, doesn't stand the test of time. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death...", so that somehow he "may attain the resurrection from the dead."

It seems that this is what all the "stuff" we're about during Lent is trying to convey to us. Jesus the Christ, who died, rose for us, and will come again, is the only fixed point of our security and safety and true joy. Everything else is part of the "swift and varied changes of the world".

Or as Julian of Norwich puts it:

God of your goodness, give me Yourself, for you are enough to me;
and I can ask for nothing that is less which can be full honor to You;
and if I ask for anything that is less, ever shall I be in want:
for only in You have I all.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Cuthbert of Lindisfarne

Excerpts from Venerable Bede's The Life of Cuthbert:

"...Such was his zeal for prayer that sometimes he would keep vigil for three or four nights at a stretch. Whether he was praying alone in some secret place or saying psalms, he always did manual work to drive away the heaviness of sleep, or else he would do the rounds of the island, kindly inquiring how everything was getting on, relieving the tedium of his long vigils and psalm-singing by walking about...

Towards the end of his life this venerable man of God was elected Bishop of Lindisfarne. Following the teaching and practice of the apostles, he adorned his office with good works. He protected the flock committed to him by constant prayer on their behalf, by wholesome admonition and -- which is the real way to teach -- by example first and precept later..."

Confession: Good For the Soul

Mercifully hear our prayers, O Lord, and spare all those who confess their sins to you; that those whose consciences are accused by sin may by your merciful pardon be absolved; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Joseph: Faithful Guardian & Protector

"There is a general rule concerning all special graces given to any human being. Whenever divine grace chooses someone to receive a special grace, or to accept a high vocation God adorns that person with all the gifts of the Spirit needed to fulfil the task.

This general rule is especially true of that holy man Joseph. He was chosen by the eternal Father to be the faithful guardian and protector of the most precious of all his treasures, namely, his divine Son; and of Mary, who became his wife. This was the task laid upon him which he carried out faithfully right to the end, when he heard the Lord say to him, 'Good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.'

A comparison may be made between Joseph and the whole Church of Christ. Joseph was the specially chosen man through whom and under whom Christ entered the world fittingly and appropriately. Thus, if the whole Church stands in the debt of the Virgin Mary, since it was through her child-bearing that it was able to receive Christ, surely after her, it owes special thanks and honour to Joseph..."
(From a sermon of Bernardino of Siena, Italian Franciscan missionary)

Proclaiming Good Tidings: A Joy & Privilege

O God, you have given us the Good News of your abounding love in your Son Jesus Christ: So fill our hearts with thankfulness that we may rejoice to proclaim the good tidings we have received; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Remembering Aunt Fuzzy - 8/13/1913 - 3/18/1974

My eldest aunt and godmother, Florence Louise Saul, whom Mom always called "Aunt Fuzzy", was born two years before my mother. Besides being the eldest child of my grandparents, Florence had a very outgoing, fun-loving personality combined with a sort of professional seriousness. I had great respect for her, almost awe. Perhaps it was because of her confident, take-charge approach toward life and because of her knowledge, especially in the medical field. I also sensed that she valued to me as a real person, even as a child, and that she loved me very much.

The picture above is Florence's bracelet, given to me by her daughter, Roberta, after her brother's death two years ago. Florence was an R.N., the only person among our immediate relatives with a college degree until I received mine in 1960. She was my Mom's idol and closest friend. I was astounded when Mom mentioned to me, during a visit to her in the 1980's, that as a young person, Mom had also entertained the hope of becoming a nurse like Florence. Unfortunately, because of the family's financial situation and my grandmother's illness, my mother had to work instead and help care for her four younger sisters.

Certainly from the time Florence was in nurses' training, she and my mother loved to party and dance...and drink. After her husband, Bob, died in 1950 after along illness, Florence gradually spiraled downward, drinking more and more heavily. In 1965 she hit bottom, could barely keep a nursing job, and became very depressed. I'd just finished my pastoral training year in Detroit and had been appointed college chaplain at Sacred Heart College, Wichita, KS. One afternoon in September, as I was working down in the basement on the college newspaper, I received an urgent call from Florence. She calmly told me that she was very depressed, that she had no desire to go on living, and that she had the means to end her life with her and was ready to do so. My recollection, after all these years, is somewhat hazy, but I know that I talked and talked like a "Dutch uncle", trying to give her every reason I could think of for not doing this, and probably drawing upon a lot of the pious platitudes I'd learned in seminary. Truth be known, I felt totally helpless and fearful. I'm sure that we talked for well over an hour, and I don't even recall how the conversation ended. I do remember not feeling very hopeful that I'd ever speak with her again.

In the ensuing weeks I fell into my regular routine at the college, somewhat encouraged that I'd heard nothing further. "No news, is good news." I continued praying earnestly for her. Three months passed and I was visiting my Mom who'd been hospitalized. I casually mentioned that I hadn't heard from Florence for awhile, and Mom replied: "Oh, didn't I tell you: she started going to AA, has given up drinking, and is doing really well." You can imagine my relief! But I wasn't prepared for what Mom said next. She told me that Florence began to make the turn-around after the phone conversation with me because of something I'd said which had "clicked" with Florence. When I asked what that was Mom said: "It was something about a 'sinner' being a human being who falls and just chooses to lay there and not get up, while a 'saint' is someone who falls repeatedly, but has the courage to put his/her hand in God's hand, and to get up and keep going." It vaguely rang a bell in my mind. Many years later I rediscovered the source of the advice I'd passed on to her, something which a retreat master, Fr. Joseph McNicholas, C.PP.S., had said to us in our first college retreat in 1955!

This was surely a reminder to me of how important it is to pay attention to what one says to other people. God's grace has a way of working through us even, maybe especially, when we're completely unaware of what's going on. Mom told me that, ever after, when Florence was asked to give an AA talk, which happened frequently, she'd always refer to this incident and to her nephew and godson. The real joy for me in this is recognizing the reality of God's saving power at work in a human life, something over which neither Aunt Florence nor I had any control. If my whole future ministry were declared a failure, this one blessed incident would serve to redeem it all, thanks be to God!

Florence continued to blossom after her initial recovery. She was extremely active in AA, in constant demand as a speaker, working the program faithfully, and eventually, I'm sure, having a very positive influence on my mother who also became active in AA. Florence resumed full-time nursing, returned to college, and became reinvolved with her parish. One of my greatest delights was to learn that Florence made a Cursillo just two years before she died. I'd made mine in 1965, so it was something further which we had to share in common. Even during her drinking years, it was apparent to me that Florence still had a deep faith. Cursillo seemed to deepen that and brought her, I think, into a close relationship with the Holy Spirit. She would often say to me and others, when we were having difficulties: "Well, honey, just throw it into the Holy Spirit's lap!"

In 1973 Florence collapsed while working at the hospital and was diagnosed with inoperable cancer. By Christmas that year, I'm sure she knew that the end was in sight. She'd expressed a desire for me and my family to come back to Ohio for a last visit, but, unfortunately, it was simply impossible at the time. At the end of December, however, I took time to write her a long letter, expressing my deep love for her and reminding her of happy past memories which we'd shared: "...the house of Water Street; the sandbox and the white picket fence; the levee; your fabulous pink crystal collection; hot whiskey-and-coke when we kids had coughs and colds; all your specialties -- beef stew, fried chicken, outstanding spaghetti dinners, and chocolate mayonnaise cake... I remember our happy times of healthy laughing and celebrating the humorous elements of life & people...But most of all, I cling to and treasure the reality of sharing a deep friendship and love with you these past 36 years...It is a constant joy to know that I was there when you needed someone most...And it is reassuring to know that, should I experience the same need, you, too, will be there to help an old sinner believe he can still be a saint...So there, I've said it, and I can have some peace knowing that you know how I feel. Yet, after reading over what I've just written, I suspect that I have said more in the unwritten lines and the silent words..."

In February, 1974 Mom took Florence to the Mayo Clinic in Cleveland where she underwent surgery to relieve excruciating pain. It was successful, but soon thereafter she developed a brain embolism. Between then and the time she died in mid-March, Florence returned to surgery some ten more times, slipping in and out of a coma. She finally was released from her suffering, dying with Mom by her side on March 18.

Sometime later, Mom gave me a small crucifix medal which Florence had received during her Cursillo weekend. Mom said, "Florence gave this to me as a keepsake, but I know she'd want you to have it." I still do have it. On the back it reads: "Christ is counting on you."

Shortly after Florence's death, her children, Terry and Roberta ("Bobbie"), and other friends set up the Florence L. Saul Nursing Scholarship Fund, to be administered by Dettmer Hospital, Troy, OH, where Florence had worked. The scholarship was to aid future nursing students needing financial assistance. In September, 1975 the first grant of $500 was awarded to Mrs. Sandra (Clevenger) Yahle, of West Milton, OH. To my knowledge, the scholarship is still in existence, helping equip other nurses to help others.

And Aunt Fuzzy, I'm sure, is sitting, probably in the Holy Spirit's lap, taking it all in!

Restored Wholeness & Free Hearts

Almighty and most merciful God, drive from us all weakness of body, mind, and spirit; that, being restored to wholeness, we may with free hearts become what you intend us to be and accomplish what you want us to do; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Patrick of the Green Isle

"I, Patrick, a sinner, and the most unlearned and the lowest of all the faithful, utterly despised by many. My father was Calpornius, a deacon, and my grandfather Potitus, a priest. I was brought up near the town of Bannaven Tiburnia. At the age of sixteen, before I knew God, I was taken captive and shipped to Ireland, along with thousands of others.

When I arrived in Ireland I was sent to tend sheep. I used to pray many times each day, and, as I prayed, I felt God's love fill my heart and strengthen my faith...I felt no fear...because the Spirit was so fervent within me...

May God never separate me from his people on this island, which stands at the very edge of the earth.
And may God always make me a faithful witness to him, until he calls me to heaven."

(From The Confession of Patrick, in Celtic Fire, ed. Robert van de Weyer)

Enduring Bread

O Lord our God, you sustained your ancient people in the
wilderness with bread from heaven: Feed now your pilgrim
flock with the food that endures to everlasting life; through
Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with
you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Living Water, Heavenly Light

O God, with you is the well of life, and in your light we see light: Quench our thirst with living water, and flood our darkened minds with heavenly light; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A Foretaste of the Place of Light

O Lord our God, in your holy Sacraments you have given us a foretaste of the good things of your kingdom: Direct us, we pray, in the way that leads to eternal life, that we may come to appear before you in that place of light where you dwell for ever with your saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Learning To Be Reconciled and To Reconcile

Today we've reached mid-Lent, formerly called "Laetare" Sunday, from the opening words of the ancient entrance hymn for the liturgy, taken from Isaiah 66: "Laetare, Jerusalem, et conventum facite, omnes qui diligitis eam...Rejoice, Jerusalem! Be glad for her, all you who love her..." The hymn goes on: "...rejoice with her, you who mourned for her, and you will find contentment at her consoling breasts." The oldest lectionaries and commentaries also called it "Refreshment Sunday". Certainly, the above reference to a mother's breast is obvious; the 1928 Book of Common Prayer also uses the Gospel of the feeding of the 5000. In the Anglican tradition it was also called "Mothering Sunday", from a previous time when there was emphasis on God's work as seen in the example of our mothers. In ancient times apprentices and those working at a distance from home were given leave to visit their mothers. Another emphasis was on the idea of "Mother Church", the "new Jerusalem". In medieval dioceses this Sunday was especially devoted to the mother church of the diocese: the cathedral.

Lent 4 is a time of transition in the season of Lent. Old devotional handbooks noted that before mid-Lent you looked at your own sins and spiritual pilgrimage, trying to amend your life and to grapple with Satan in the wilderness. After mid-Lent, in these books, the focus shifted from oneself to Jesus and the whole movement toward his Passion. So today there's a sort of psychic breath-taking before we begin in earnest the journey to encounter the Cross. We look backward to where we've been, and we look forward to how far we still have to go.

Far and away, the most common topic chosen for sermons on this day is probably Luke's account of The Prodigal Son (15:1-3; 11b-32). Notice that this story is one of three stories in Luke 15 dealing with the recovery of something(one) lost. Verses 3-7 talk about lost sheep, although the parable is really about the shepherd who seeks, finds, and restores the sheep to the fold. In the parable of the lost coin (vv. 8-10) the story is about a woman householder who turns her house inside out until she finds the coin which she misplaced. She's so happy that she can't keep it to herself, and thus feels the urge to invite her friends to rejoice along with her. So, when we come to verse 11, it should be no surprise to find another story of recovery of the lost.

Luke has Jesus getting right to the point: "There was a man who had two sons..." It's sort of a tip-off that the story isn't really about one of the sons, just as the previous stories weren't about the sheep, nor about the lost coin. This parable gives a lot of space to the the real subject: the father. The father is the one who initiates the younger son's prodigality by giving him the inheritance and the independence in the first place. The father sees the young man at a distance, runs out and welcomes him, and won't let the son feel ashamed or humiliated. The father is the one who tries to pacify and reassure the older son. And the father has the last word in the parable: a word of resurrection and reconciliation.

In the two earlier parables of Luke 15, the sheep are recovered by the shepherd's efforts, and the coin is found by the woman's industriousness. In this story the younger son's efforts lead to new insight and to self-discovery. Luke says, " one gave him anything, but when he came to himself..." he returned to his right mind, as if coming out of an illness or a feverish state. No activity by the father to recover the son is suggested. He simply waits: no search party, no deprogramming plan for when he returns. Once the son recovers himself, the father then takes the intiative as soon as he sees him approaching from afar off.

Then there's the older son, about to be lost to the father because of anger and bitter resentment toward his younger sibling. Here the father, like the shepherd and the woman of the previous parables, tries to recover what he's in danger of losing. He patiently explains to the older son what's going on, he pleads with him to let go of the anger and hardened attitude which is eating the young man up inside. In the story's closing sentence, Luke brings together the themes of all three of the parables of loss and recovery: the lost is found, as with the good shepherd; and the joy of recovery is so great that it needs to be shared and celebrated with joy and music and dancing.

Luke introduces us, in today's Gospel, to three vividly portrayed people: the patient, loving father; the impetuous, irresponsible and, eventually, repentant younger son; and the faithful, plodding, hardworking, but jealous and resentful old brother. It probably would be a mistake, however, to view the father and the older son as the contrast with the prodigal son. In fact, both of the sons are prodigal: both are wasteful, uncaring, insensitive, each in his own way. They, like the sheep and the coin, are the backdrop against which we learn something about the father. We know that he's fair and generous, perhaps even foolish, to the point of liberality. He honors the younger son's request for his share of the wealth, before it's due. Of course, it doesn't really belong to the son because an inheritance presupposes the death of the heir's benefactor. Nevertheless, the father probably deprives himself of income which might have been needed as he grew older. We're not told if the father doubts the wisdom of his decision, nor if he regretted it, once made. Nor are we told if he's worried about the son's going off on his own.

What we do know is that the father deeply loves both of his sons, and that he's greatly relieved and rejoices at the younger son's return. He celebrates lavishly, prodigally, the return to life of a "dead" son. Luke depicts the father using all the symbolic language and gestures of resurrection and of starting anew: 1) the cloak; new garments: a symbol of all the rights and duties of the household; 2) the ring: probably a signet ring, a sign of authority and wealth; 3) the sandals: a sign of being relieved of humiliation and extreme poverty; 4) the fattened calf: reserved only for the biggest feasts, usually for monarchs or princes, an especially delectable food.

We also know that this father greatly desired not to lose his older son, despite the fact that the son was angry and resentful, that he wouldn't even acknowledge the other son as his brother ("...this son of yours"), despite the fact that he'd been there for the father for a long time, and that he'd kept all the "rules", EXCEPT for the one which really mattered: the rule of love and forgiveness, especially of his own flesh and blood. The father reminds the older son that, though he maintains a different relationship to him, he loves him no less fully.

Luke's passage, to this point, has been filled with entreaties to repentance. The burden has been on the one(s) erring to come back, to repent of the past. Now the emphasis of the story shifts a bit: to God's persistence in seeking out the lost and on God's love and joy at recovering the lost one. The father's joy, and the woman's and the shepherd's happiness, are all the consequence of people turning their lives around and being reconciled. And this is the point of the story: that God isn't primarily interested in the sin, the mistakes, the failures of your past and mine, but rather in what God sees can be made of us in Jesus: a new creation, in the present and in the future. Jesus is central to the process of restoring broken relationships, of reconciling us to the Father and to him, and of moving us to reconcile others in himself.

Paul reminds us that God has handed this on to us as a primary ministry: "All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation...So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

Hope & the Prophet's Message

(Excerpted from The Prophetic Imagination, by Walter Brueggemann, Fortress Press, Philadelphia, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 1982)

"The task of the prophetic imagination and ministry is to bring to public expression those very hopes and yearnings that have been denied so long and suppressed so deeply that we no longer know they are there. an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts.

Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality which is the majority opinion, and one does that only at great political and existential risk...hope is subsersive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question..."

About the prophet's role: "...a prophet has another purpose in bringing hope to public expression, and that is to return the community to its single referent, the sovereign faithfulness of God...Only a move from a managed world to the world of spoken and heard faithfulness permits hope..."

Friday, March 12, 2010

March 13 - Strength To Stand Upright

O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and
great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we
cannot always stand upright: Grant us such strength and
protection as may support us in all dangers, and carry us
through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who
lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for
ever and ever. Amen.

In the Power of The Name

Grant us, O Lord our Strength, a true love of your holy
Name; so that, trusting in your grace, we may fear no
earthly evil, nor fix our hearts on earthly goods, but may
rejoice in your full salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God,
for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Church: Grounded in Weakness, Grounded in Power

Keep watch over your Church, O Lord, with your unfailing
love; and, since it is grounded in human weakness and
cannot maintain itself without your aid, protect it from all
danger, and keep it in the way of salvation; through Jesus
Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Dealing With Changes On the Journey

Give ear to our prayers, O Lord, and direct the way of your
servants in safety under your protection, that, amid all the
changes of our earthly pilgrimage, we may be guarded by
your mighty aid; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Fervent Desire To Pray

O Lord, we beseech you mercifully to hear us; and grant that
we, to whom you have given a fervent desire to pray, may, by
your mighty aid, be defended and comforted in all dangers and
adversities; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and
ever. Amen.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Hand of Power, Hand of Love

Look upon the heart-felt desires of your humble servants,
Almighty God, and stretch forth the right hand of your
majesty to be our defense against all our enemies; through
Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the
Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Learning To Be and To Do

When a human being “turns aside” to see, God speaks to him/her. God speaks the Name which defines God: Who God is. In speaking God’s Name to us, God calls you and me to be and to do. One must always be careful, in being and doing, never to confuse oneself with God. Only God is faithful, like a Rock. To be and to do, as God has called us, requires repentance, what Scripture calls in Greek metanoia: a radical turning, a basic changing of one’s attitude and heart.

The writer of Lent 3’s Exodus story (3:1-15) emphasizes how important it is to turn aside to see. The writer confronts us with the mysterious God and the call to service within our mundane routine. The God reflected here is a sensitive and compassionate God: “I have observed...I have heard...I know...”, but this is also a dynamic and active God: “I have come down to deliver bring them land flowing with milk and honey...” In Scripture one’s name isn’t just a tag with which to identify someone. One’s name in Scripture expresses or defines who you are. The divine Name with which God speaks to Moses is both an answer and an evasion. The full impact and meaning of God’s Name for human beings, and our relationship to this God, becomes known only through faithful living: being what we’re to be and doing what we’re to do.

Moses‘ response to God’s wish to send him to Pharaoh on God’s behalf is so typical: “!” Moses had reason not to return to Egypt. He’d killed a man there, and someone else, an eye-witness, had seen him do it. But God doesn’t back down. Not only will Moses go and bring God’s people out of Egypt, but he’s also to bring them to this mountain where “you shall serve God”, to Mt. Sinai, also called Horeb: a truly God-awful, dreadful place!

Paul’s passage from 1 Corinthians (10:1-13) is a bit hard to follow because of the mixture of references from both the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. Paul assumes that these Gentile Corinthian Christians hold the common view that they are spiritual descendants of the Israelites; they’re the “new Israel”. This would also be at a time when Paul and they were expecting, as Paul says, “the end of the ages”. Paul uses a method of biblical interpretation called typology. Persons, things or events from the past are applied as types foreshadowing present situations or people which suggest similarity. There are clear references to Christian Baptism and the Eucharist. Just as the Israelites took God’s Presence for granted during their desert wandering, as well as the nourishment God provided in food and drink, so any of us Christians can presume that he/she “has it made” simply because of the sacramental gifts of baptismal new life and the sustenance of Christ’s Body and Blood. Paul issues a solemn warning, both to the Corinthians and to us: 1) against self-sufficiency and overconfidence; and 2) against despair when temptation and suffering inevitably appear in our lives. Both, for Paul, reflect a faith-less attitude. Paul is very clear: “...We must not put Christ to the test...[or] complain... God is faithful...[God] will not let you be tested beyond your strength...[God] will provide the way out so that you may be able to endure it.

Any idolatry, whether it’s of food and drink, money, power, status; or immorality; or putting God to the test, questioning God’s Lordship; or grumbling and incessantly complaining -- all that shows that you and I are unwilling to accept God’s claim: “I AM WHO I AM”.

In the Gospel reading (13:1-9) the evangelist, Luke, refers to some local situations. Apparently Pontius Pilate, who had a reputation for cruel and unjust treatment, had had some Jewish Galileans killed while they were offering sacrifice. The historian Josephus records several other similar incidents attributed to Pilate. There had also been an accident, though there’s no account of it, on the construction site of the Siloam reservoir near Jerusalem, where 18 people were killed: an interesting coincidental reminder which comes on the heels of the recent earthquake catastrophes in both Haiti and Chile. People, for a long time it seems, have often viewed suffering and violent death as the result of one’s sin, as punishment, retribution. TV’s purported “evangelist”, Pat Robertson, is a perfect example. One wonders if he ever read this passage closely before spouting off about the unfortunate people of Haiti! Jesus clearly challenges this kind of arrogant, wrong, and faithless attitude. Our human tragedies aren’t the punishments of some “Ogre” God! To be a human being is to be innately limited. Human beings miscalculate; bad accidents happen to good people because of their limited human condition. People become ill, whether because of their own actions or habits, or because of outside influences and causes; people, because of dysfunctional attitudes and brains and hormones, etc. do terrible things to one another simply because they’re human and not God. There is an ultimate suffering or pain, but only for something far deeper than simply being a human creature. One who intentionally chooses not to change, or to set oneself above God will “perish”. You and I perish when we choose not to be and to do what our Creator bids us to be and do.

Luke then makes a significant point in relating Jesus’ parable about the fig tree: that God who is merciful gives each of us time to be and to do, even after we’ve proven, over and over again, to be uncooperative, unproductive, and faithless. People plant orchards with the expectation that the trees will yield a crop of fruit. Occasionally, one or other of them don’t. Here’s a tree which by now should’ve produced fruit. It’s frustrating when this happens, and it’s logical that the tree’s removal is the proposed solution. It takes up space which could be filled with something that does grow. It costs extra to continue tending it. The tree is likely unsightly. It may even have a blight which could threaten other healthy trees. But the vinedresser, here symbolizing the merciful God, seeks one more year’s grace for the tree.

How many years has God come to you and me “looking for fruit...”?? And what has God found?? God is always eager to tend us a bit longer, but only a fool would bank on having an indefinite time. In God’s mercy God will continue to dig up and around and turn over our false complacency and security and proud reliance on ourselves. God will “put manure on it”: humus, ground, soil, compost, in order to bring us to realize in humility, in the groundedness of reality, who God is and who we are. God will do just about anything to get us to repent, to radically turn around, to change, to commit ourselves and our lives to God in faithfulness, and to others in liberating service: in other words, to be and to do.

James E. Magaw puts it this way:
“Too often
I want to say
Nothing new for me, thanks!
No changes,
Nothing different,
No fearful risks.
I thank God for a savior
Who is the same
Yesterday, today,
That’s a savior
To match my life,
Only this question disturbs me,
Is this salvation,
Or avoidance of the cross?”