Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Andrew, Apostle: The Middle Child??

Some have speculated that Andrew could've been a middle child. His high-powered older brother, St. Peter, certainly overshadowed him. Interestingly, it was Andrew who introduced Peter to Jesus, resulting in Peter's following the Master and eventually becoming head honcho among the close followers. Both the young men were fishermen by trade. It seems that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptizer before being called into Jesus' inner circle. Andrew seems to have always been working the background: telling Jesus about the boy with the loaves and fishes which Jesus used in feeding five thousand people; announcing to Jesus the arrival of some Greek visitors who wanted an audience.

Legend has it that Andrew later ministered among the Scythians, ancient inhabitants of what we know as Russia. Not surprisingly, Andrew has long been a patron of Russia, as well as of Scotland, probably because his relics were brought there in the 8th century. The Scottish flag features an X-shaped cross, associated with St. Andrew who is said to have been martyred on such a cross. The Brotherhood of St. Andrew, an informal fellowship of adult and young men, has been a long-standing organization in the U.S. Episcopal Church.

Rear window
St. Andrew's Episcopal Cathedral
Honolulu, Hawaii

From a sermon by Mark Frank:
"...And alas, what have we, the best, the richest of us as highly as we think of ourselves and ours, more than Andrew and his brother: a few old broken nets? What are all our honours but old nets to catch the breath of the world! What are our estates but nets to entangle us? What are all our ways and devises of thriving but so many several nets to catch a little yellow sand and mud? What are all those fine catching ways of eloquence, knowledge, good parts of mind and body, but so many nets and snares to catch others with?...And our life itself, what is it but a few rotten threads knit together into veins and sinews, its construction so fragile that the least stick or stone can unloose it or break all to pieces.

O blessed saint of this day, that we could but leave these nets as thou didst thine: that nothing might any longer entangle us or keep us from our Master's service! Follow we St. Andrew as he did Christ, follow him to Christ, cheerfully and without delay, and while it is today, begin our course. Cast off the networks, the catching desires of the flesh and the world, and so you also may be said to have left your nets. And having so weaned your souls from inordinate affection to things below, let Christ be your business, his life your pattern, his commands your law..."  (Celebrating the Saints, p. 453)

Monday, November 29, 2010

"Servant of God": Blessed Dorothy Day

Among people whom I would most liked to have met in my life, Dorothy Day certainly stands out among them. I envied my late former spiritual director, Fr. Robert Lechner, C.PP.S., with whom I worked closely for two years, who had met Dorothy. Wikipedia lists her title as: "Servant of God"

Dorothy Day (1897-1980) was a journalist, social activist and devout Catholic convert. She advocated the Catholic economic theory of Distributism. She was also considered to be an Christian anarchist. In the 1930s, Day worked closely with fellow activist Peter Maurin to establish the Catholic Worker movement: a nonviolent, pacifist movement which continues to combine direct aid for the poor and homeless with nonviolent direct action on their behalf. Day's cause for canonization is open in the Catholic Church.

On the jacket of Dorothy Day's book, Loaves and Fishes, Thomas Merton wrote: "Poverty for Dorothy Day is more than a sociological problem, it is also a religious mystery." Merton was quite taken with Dorothy, and considered her an icon of what it means to genuinely take the Christian Gospel seriously and to live it: to be concerned about the poor who, as Jesus said, "are always with us", about the outcast and unloved, and about the homeless; and to unashamedly oppose war and violence. Over the span of almost 10 years Merton sent her 29 letters. He once wrote: "If there were no Catholic Worker and such forms of witness, I would never have joined the Catholic Church."

Almighty God, you have surrounded us with a great cloud of witnesses:
Grant that we, encouraged by the good example of your servant,
Dorothy Day, may persevere in running the race that is set before us,
until at last we may with her attain to your eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith. Amen.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Danger of Advent

The late British Scripture scholar, J. B. Phillips (1906-1982), speaks of an Advent danger: that of Advent being too familiar to us Christians. Like any of the seasonal celebrations occurring year after year, we run the risk of becoming indifferent to the reasons behind the celebration and its meaning to us individually and corporately. In our culture, the irrational preoccupation with "Christmas", from at least October on, fairly blinds us to the rich meaning of the Advent season.

There was a time when Christian families routinely used visual aids to reflect on and emphasize Advent's significance: the Advent wreath, a daily Advent calendar, the Jesse Tree, etc. Some families, I'm sure, continue those traditions, but I wonder if it's in any sense a widespread practice today.

J. B. Phillips, in an article "The Christian Year", notes: "What we are in fact celebrating is the awe-inspiring humility of God, and no amount of familiarity with the trappings of Christmas should ever blind us to its quiet but explosive significance. For Christians believe that so great is God's love and concern for humanity that he himself became a man. Amid the sparkle and colour and music of the day's celebration we do well to remember that God's insertion of himself into human history was achieved with an almost frightening quietness and humility."

Look at the historic facts: when Jesus was born few people were really aware of what was happening, even his parents. After the fact, apparently, no one spoke openly about this unusual human being for some thirty years. As an adult, he was recognized by few people for who he really was. In fact for the short two or three years in which he taught, preached and did remarkable healings, he was looked down upon, opposed, and written off by many folks as pretty much a nobody. He was betrayed by one of his inner circle of followers, deserted by many of the rest of them after his arrest, and murdered by Roman occupiers and Jewish leaders outside the capital city, as a common criminal. By human measuring, this was just another young, poor, idealistic man who failed in the pursuit of his cause, and was murdered by professional politicians and religious fundamentalists in an outback province occupied by Rome.

But Phillips makes this observation, quite relevant in this age of outspoken professed atheists like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins: "It is two thousand years ago that his apparently invincible [Roman] Empire utterly collapsed, and all that is left of it is ruins. Yet the baby, born in such pitiful humility and cut down as a young man in his prime, commands the allegiance of millions of people all over the world. Although they have never seen him, he has become friend and companion to innumerable people. This undeniable fact is, by any measurement, the most astonishing phenomenon in human history. It is a solid rock of evidence that no agnostic [or atheist!] can ever explain away."  

Advent 1

This is the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, on which we recall the hope we have in Jesus the Christ. The prophets of Israel all spoke of the coming of the Anointed One, a savior who would be born, a king in the line of David. They spoke of how he would reign over the world wisely and bless the nations. Christmas celebrates the birth of Christ our hope. On Good Friday the Christ of our hope died. On the day of Resurrection the Christ of our hope rose from the dead and ascended into heaven. On the Last Day the Christ of our hope will come to establish his reign over all things in heaven and on earth.
We light this first Advent candle to remind us to be alert and to watch for his return.

Loving God, we thank you for the hope you give us. Help us prepare
our hearts for the Lord's coming. Bless our worship. Help us live holy
and righteous lives. We ask it in the name of the One born in Bethlehem.

Our Lady of the New Advent Icon

 (Photo by Lars Hammar)

From House For All Sinners & Saints, an urban liturgical community in Denver, CO:

"This is the icon we created during liturgy over the 4 weeks of Advent. Every piece of this is from "Christmas" ads: circulars, catalogs and all that junk that comes in the mail and the newspaper. We created 1/4 of it each week. An Artist in the community traced the image onto poster board indicating what color should go in each shape. People ages 6-65 cut out the right color from the ads and glued it in the space. Easy and subversive." (On the blog Sarcastic Lutheran,

Monday, November 22, 2010

"Simply praise God with 'songs of joy'"! [St. Augustine]

By coincidence, the American Music Awards aired yesterday, the same day as the commemoration of noted English musicians John Merbecke [Marbeck] (c. 1510-1585), Thomas Tallis (1505-1585), and William Byrd (c. 1540-1623). And today we commemorate St. Cecilia (??-c. 223), a Roman martyr and, since the 16th century, patroness of musicians.

Probably a native of Beverley in Yorkshire, John Merbecke [var., Marbeck, Merbeck] apparently was a boy chorister at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, and was employed as an organist there from about 1541-1543. In 1543 he was convicted with four others of heresy and sentenced to stake, but was pardoned through the intervention of Bishop Stephen Gardiner, of Winchester. An English Concordance of the Bible which Merbecke had been preparing was however confiscated and destroyed. A later version of this work, the first of its kind in English, was published in 1550 with a dedication to Edward VI.

In the same year Merbecke published The Booke of Common Praier Noted, in order to provide for musical uniformity in the use of the first Prayer Book of Edward VI. The liturgy was set to semi-rhythmical melodies, partly adapted from Gregorian chant. The book was rendered obsolete, however, when the Prayer Book was revised in 1552. It was however rediscovered in the 19th century, and adaptations for the Anglican 1662 liturgy are still in use.

Thomas Tallis, an English composer, flourished as a church musician in 16th century Tudor England. He occupies a primary place in anthologies of English church music, and is considered among the best of England's early composers. Little is known about Tallis's early life, but he was probably born toward the close of the reign of Henry VII. His first known appointment to a musical position was as organist of Dover Priory, a Benedictine priory c. 1530. He then moved to London, probably in the autumn of 1538 to the Augustinian abbey of the Holy Cross at Waltham, and remained until the abbey was dissolved in 1540.

Tallis's next appears at Canterbury Cathedral. He was sent to court as Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1543, where he composed and performed for Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth I. As organist and composer for these monarchs, Tallis managed to avoid current political and religious controversies, though, like William Byrd, he stayed an "unreformed Roman Catholic." Tallis was adept in switching the style of his compositions to suit the vastly different tastes of the kings and queens whom he served. Tallis certainly stood out, among other important composers of his time, because of his versatility of style and his general, more consistently easy and certain handling of his material. Tallis married around 1552, his wife, Joan, outliving him by four years. They apparently had no children. Late in his life he lived in Greenwich, possibly close to the royal palace. Thomas Tallis died peacefully in his house in Greenwich on November 23, 1585. He was buried in the chancel of the parish of St Alfege's Church.

One of Tallis' most notable students was William Byrd. Byrd was born in London, the son of a Thomas Byrd (not the Thomas Byrd of the Chapel Royal), about whom little is known. He had two brothers and four sisters. A reference in the prefatory material in the Tallis/Byrd Cantiones of 1575 clearly indicates that Byrd was a pupil of Thomas Tallis, then the leading composing member of the Chapel Royal Choir.

Byrd's first known professional employment was an organist and choirmaster of Lincoln Cathedral, a post which he held from 1563 until 1572. His career at Lincoln wasn't entirely trouble-free; in  November, 1569, the Dean and Chapter cited him for ‘certain matters alleged against him’ as the result of which his salary was suspended. Since Puritanism was influential at Lincoln, it's possible that the allegations involved over-elaborate choral polyphony or organ playing! A second directive that same month spelled out detailed instructions as to how Byrd was to use the organ in the liturgy. In  September, 1568, Byrd married Julian Birley, and enjoyed a long-lasting and fruitful union which produced at least seven children.

Byrd was appointed to the prestigious post of Gentleman of the Chapel Royal in 1572. Almost from the outset Byrd is named as ‘organist. This position vastly increased Byrd's opportunities to widen his scope as a composer and also to make contacts at the court. Queen Elizabeth I was a moderate Protestant who steered clear of the more extreme forms of Puritanism and retained a fondness for elaborate ritual, besides being a music lover and keyboard player herself. Byrd's output of Anglican church music is surprisingly small, but it stretches the limits of elaboration then regarded as acceptable by some reforming Protestants who regarded it as a distraction from the Word of God.

In about 1594, now in his early fifties, and as a far as the Chapel Royal, seemingly in semi-retirement, he moved with his family to Stondon Massey, a small village in Essex. The main reason for the move seems to have been the proximity of Byrd's patron Sir John Petre. Byrd remained in Stondon Massey until his death on July 4, 1623, which was noted in the Chapel Royal Check Book in a unique entry describing him as ‘a Father of Musick’.

Byrd's output of about 470 compositions amply justifies his reputation as one of the great masters of European Renaissance music. Perhaps his most impressive achievement as a composer was his ability to transform so many of the main musical forms of his day and stamp them with his own identity. Having grown up in an age in which Latin polyphony was largely confined to liturgical items, he synthesized the English and continental models of the motet. He virtually created the Tudor consort and keyboard fantasia. He also raised the consort song, the church anthem and the Anglican service setting to new heights. Finally, despite a general aversion to the madrigal, he succeeded in cultivating secular vocal music in an impressive variety of forms.

According to 5th century sources, Cecilia was of noble birth and was betrothed to a pagan, Valerian. Her witness to the faith allegedly resulted in the conversion of Valerian and his brother, Tiburtius. Eventually, because of this, the brothers were martyred and, while burying them, Cecilia herself was arrested. It is said that, in 1599, when an earlier church on the site of Cecilia's villa in the Trastevere was rebuilt, her tomb was opened and her body was found in an incorrupt state, but quickly disintegrated when exposed to the air. Sculptor Stefano Maderno, who witnessed this, later created a life-sized statue, enshrined in the Church of Santa Caecilia in Rome, as he saw her: "lying on the right side...her knees drawn together and seeming to be asleep..." She had been at least partially beheaded.

Since the 16th century, Cecilia has been immortalized as the patroness of musicians, possibly because of a misreading of a line in the Acts of the martyrs: "...like the singing of an organ she sang in her heart to the Lord, saying: 'May my heart be unsullied forever, that I may not be thwarted in my vows." The Flemish artist, Jan Van Eyck, was the first to depict Cecilia, seated at an organ. An indelible childhood memory of mine is of a large framed picture of Cecilia at the organ, which was kept in a spare storage room in my grandparents' home where I used to "play Mass". Cecilia was declared patroness of the Academy of Music, founded in Rome in 1584, and has been mentioned in many musical compositions and poems. She is also named in the Canon of the Roman Latin Mass.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Culture of Christ Sunday

This is known as “Christ the King” Sunday, the last Sunday after Pentecost, and the culmination of the Church’s liturgical year. Next week is our “liturgical New Year’s”: the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of the Cycle A lectionary readings.

Contemporary theologian, James Alison, says this about “Christ the King” Sunday: “We don't often think in terms of kings or kingdoms anymore. The ‘PC’ way of talking about it is to talk about a ‘Reign of Christ.’ But I'm not sure that catches it, either. In this democratic, capitalist age we don't talk about either kingdoms or reigns. Even ‘nation’ is becoming less of an issue. What is it that we talk about the most these days when it comes to social constructs? Isn't it ‘culture’? Everything these days is about ‘culture,’... So how about the ‘Culture of Christ’ Sunday?

Alison goes on to reflect on how fed up he is “of going to seminar after seminar in which there is so much babble about culture that amounts to little more than a cataloguing of characteristics…” No one seems to examine the deeper issue: namely, how culture is generated, how it comes into being.

René Girard, noted cultural anthropologist, was one who did think about such things. He puts the Cross of Christ right at the center of what reveals to us how our culture is founded, is based upon, violence and killing -- which is exactly what today’s Gospel (Luke 23:33-43) seems to be about. In the cross of Christ we see both the revelation of how we base our culture and how God founds the divine culture, offered to us in Christ: a culture based on Christ's yielding to the violence and killing on which our culture is based, at the same time that he forgives us for it.

Take, for example, the ongoing world crisis against terrorism. Our culture seems unable conceive of any other option than to meet violent force with further violent force. We attempt to make peace by threatening more violence. Look at the attitudes and actions of our current political leaders in the Congress and Senate: apparently, they truly can't imagine any other option for the President. What would it look like if we possibly based the affairs of State on something like the Cross? We can't even imagine it. But God could. And God has, in fact, brought about a new culture, a new reign: the opposite of murder and vengeance. namely, by forgiving, even in the face of violence and killing.

The one statement which fairly leaps out at us from Luke’s Gospel text this morning is: “And the people stood by, watching…” (23:35) It’s found only in Luke who, throughout his Gospel, shows how “the people” witness virtually every aspect of Jesus’ ministry: Zechariah the priest proclaimed early on that God has “looked favorably upon his people and redeemed them”, even sending a messenger to “give knowledge of salvation to his people”. The people listen to Jesus’ teaching, praising God for his healing power. The people witness Jesus confronting and criticizing the religious authorities, and flock to hear him in the temple, even as he prophesies its destruction. Luke says that “a great number of the people” follow as Jesus is led away to be crucified, and here they are, again, “the people” standing by the cross, watching.

What a contrast with the others at the scene. The people don’t mock or deride Jesus in his desperate situation, as others do. What could their presence here by the cross mean? Are they just curious onlookers, like gawkers who crane their necks at the sight of the gruesome horror and “spectacle” of a freeway accident: captivated, but without any personal commitment or involvement? Or perhaps, are they like friends and family, gathered in vigil at the bedside of a dying loved one, simply offering support to their beloved Teacher in the only way they know how?

Luke’s silence about “the people’s” motives invites you and me, as readers and hearers of this Gospel, to ourselves enter into the episode as we “watch” the story unfold. What do “the people” see? What do the hearers hear? the readers understand? What do we hear and see and understand?

As Jesus travelled around among the people, he clearly rejected any association between himself and the idea of “kingship”, despite the interesting allusions which Luke uses earlier in the Gospel. Zechariah, again, refers to the One who will be “a mighty savior...in the house of [God’s] servant David”. The heavenly angel, appearing to the shepherds after Jesus’ birth, confirms that. Other allusions include Jesus being referred to as “the Anointed One” [messiah], in the manner of a king, and his entry into Jerusalem, on the royal symbol of a donkey and with the acclaim of “the people”.

Despite these allusions, Scripture also hints that this Savior/King isn’t the royalty most people were expecting. Jesus is born in a manger, “because there was no place for them in the inn”, says Luke. Jesus’ royal anointing is expressed, not in any military action engaging other powers, but in bringing “good news to the poor...and...proclaim[ing] the year of the Lord’s favor”. Finally, Luke presents Jesus, hanging on a cross, outside the walls of Jerusalem, in between two criminals whom, even as he suffers and his life ebbs away, he engages in conversation. Hardly the typical place for a king! Yet, above Jesus‘ head hangs the clear inscription: “This is the King of the Jews”.

The leaders”, Luke says, witnessing the crucifixion and recognizing the irony of a crucified man, acclaimed as a “king”, repeatedly scoff at Jesus [lit., kept sneering]: “...let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!…”, even as the Pharisees had done earlier, when Jesus taught about the dangers of wealth. “The soldiers” also mock him, continuing the demeaning actions of the “men who were holding Jesus” before his trial, as Luke says. Even one of the criminals sharing Jesus‘ plight joins in the disdainful chorus, “deriding him”, Luke notes, “...saying ‘Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!

Three times Jesus is ridiculed and taunted about his being called “The King”, “the Anointed One”, even though Jesus’ whole ministry to the people, not just to his fellow Jews, but to anyone and everyone who came to him, was defined by one thing: bringing God’s love and salvation to, and sharing it with, every person, regardless of status or condition. Yet, in the culture of violence which brought about his own death, which Jesus had predicted, there were many questions, doubts, and much disbelief about his true identity and purpose.

But, as Luke reminds us, there was one exception: the other criminal crucified with Jesus. Unknown and unidentified, he’s depicted as a person who recognizes the truth about what’s happening. He rebukes the other derisive criminal, pointing out that they’re getting what they deserved for their deeds, whereas “this man has done nothing wrong”. He’d heard Jesus say earlier: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” Somehow this man recognized that the culture in which Jesus, “the Anointed One”, ministered and lived was one of forgiveness and reconciliation, even in the face of violence and murder. He confesses his own failings: “we...have been condemned justly...we are getting what we deserve for our deeds”, and in humility, he asks only that Jesus not forget him in the “kingdom” after they die. Jesus assures him that in his “reign”, in his “culture”, the “criminal” is already forgiven, that the man and Jesus already share the place where evil and violence give way to mercy, forgiveness and love.

Luke doesn’t tell us how “the people” who were watching responded to any of this. We don’t know what they thought about the taunting regarding Jesus’ saving power; or about Jesus’ conversation with the criminals; or whether, in their minds and hearts, Jesus was who he had proclaimed himself to be. “The people” don’t ever appear again in Luke’s narrative.

So what of us who also “watch” this story? We’re lucky to be the beneficiaries of many centuries of thought and discussion about it since the time it happened. Perhaps no more eloquent commentary from Scripture could be chosen to guide us and teach us about Jesus the Christ who “reigns” with compassion, forgiveness and love, than the passage (Colossians 1:11-20) from Paul’s letter to the Colossian community. Paul helps us to understand that the Crucified Jesus is the Cosmic Christ: that, first of all, in and through our baptismal relationship with God in Christ by the power of the Spirit, you and I are freed from the violence and evil of all “powers” and secondary “rulers” in the universe; and, secondly, that in and through that baptismal relationship, you and I and, indeed, all that has been created, participates in the reign, the culture of Christ. “...all the strength”, Paul says, “...comes from his glorious power…

In Christ, the Father has “enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light…” The Greek word for “enabled” means “to cause to be adequate, to make sufficient, to qualify”. How many times have you and I felt “inadequate” about ourselves? “insufficient”? “unqualified”? Paul is proclaiming that God, through Christ’s continual forgiveness and love, is always making us adequate, and sufficient, and qualified. In Baptism, you and I have made a huge transition: God has swooped us up, “rescued us” from the power of darkness, and put us in a new place, “transferred us”, into the reign, the culture, the life, of forgiveness, redemption, love. We come into “the light”: the place where there is only honesty, clarity, truth and vision. And in this place we’re never alone. We share “in the inheritance of the saints”, the Communion of God’s holy ones who love us, support us, and are, indeed, our true BFF’s...Best Friends Forever!

As the Agent of Creation, Jesus the Christ, God’s Son, is the icon,”the image”, of the God whom we can’t see here below. In Jesus the Christ, however, we do see God. Every human being and all of creation has its origin, begins, in Him. And, Paul says, “all things have been created through him and for him...in him all things hold together…” Wherever we encounter things or human beings speaking to us of what Jesus the Christ is and does -- loving, forgiving, ministering to, accepting -- there we “see” not only Jesus the Christ, but the unseen Father and the life-giving Spirit, and we see the Church, the assembly of “the people” gathered to make Him, who is the Head of the body, present among us.

As the Agent of Redemption, Christ summarizes, encompasses, embodies, the fullness of Who God is. Christ is the beginning, the continuation, and the end of all life. Christ is the “first”, Number 1, in everything: first in priority, first in importance, first in origin, first in order, so that nothing in the entire universe exists outside of Christ’s/God’s domain.

So, in this “Culture of Christ”, what is God up to? What’s God’s agenda? What’s the bottom line? Two things, Paul says: first, in this beloved Son who is Jesus the Christ, who is above, beyond, and ahead of all that is created, God “was pleased to dwell ”; and secondly, “through him God was pleased to reconcile to [God]self all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

As you and I, part of the people of God, the Church, today think back over this past year, what have we understood, seen, heard? More importantly, how has what we’ve observed, dealt with, and heard moved us to react to Jesus the Christ? “Who do you say that I am?”, Christ continually asks us, and “What have you done, what will you do, to bring into being my culture, my reign of peace, mercy, forgiveness and love?

Thursday, November 18, 2010

St. Hild[a] of Whitby (614-680)

From Book IV, Chapter 23: The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, 
by the Venerable Bede of Jarrow

Of the life and death of the Abbess Hilda.

"In the year after this, that is the year of our Lord 680, the most religious handmaid of Christ, Hilda,abbess of the monastery that is called Streanaeshalch, as we mentioned above, after having done many heavenly deeds on earth, passed thence to receive the rewards of the heavenly life, on the 17th of November, at the age of sixty-six years. Her life falls into two equal parts, for the first thirty-three years of it she spent living most nobly in the secular habit; and still more nobly dedicated the remaining half to the Lord in the monastic life. For she was nobly born, being the daughter of Hereric, nephew to King Edwin, and with that king she also received the faith and mysteries of Christ, at the preaching of Paulinus, of blessed memory, the first bishop of the Northumbrians, and
preserved the same undefiled till she attained to the vision of our Lord in Heaven.

When she had resolved to quit the secular habit, and to serve Him alone, she withdrew into the province of the East Angles, for she was allied to the king there; being desirous to cross over thence into Gaul, forsaking her native country and all that she had, and so to live a stranger for our Lord’s sake in the monastery of Cale, that she might the better attain to the eternal country in heaven. For her sister Heresuid, mother to Aldwulf, king of the East Angles, was at that time living in the same monastery, under regular discipline, waiting for an everlasting crown; and led by her example, she continued a whole year in the aforesaid province, with the design of going abroad; but afterwards,
Bishop Aidan recalled her to her home, and she received land to the extent of one family on the north side of the river Wear; where likewise for a year she led a monastic life, with very few companions.

After this she was made abbess in the monastery called Heruteu, (Hartlepool) which monastery had been founded, not long before, by the pious handmaid of Christ, Heiu, who is said to have been the first woman in the province of the Northumbrians who took upon her the vows and habit of a nun, being consecrated by Bishop Aidan; but she, soon after she had founded that monastery, retired to the city of Calcaria, which is called Kaelcacaestir (Tadcaster)by the English, and there fixed her dwelling. Hilda, the handmaid of Christ, being set over that monastery, began immediately to order it in all things under a rule of life, according as she had been instructed by learned men; for Bishop Aidan, and others of the religious that knew her, frequently visited her and loved her heartily, and diligently instructed her, because of her innate wisdom and love of the service of God.

When she had for some years governed this monastery, wholly intent upon establishing a rule of life, it happened that she also undertook either to build or to set in order a monastery in the place called Streanaeshalch, and this work which was laid upon her she industriously performed; for she put this monastery under the same rule of monastic life as the former; and taught there the strict observance of justice, piety, chastity, and other virtues, and particularly of peace and charity; so that, after the example of the primitive Church, no one there was rich, and none poor, for they had all things common, and none had any private property. Her prudence was so great, that not only meaner men in their need, but sometimes even kings and princes, sought and received her counsel; she obliged those who were under her direction to give so much time to reading of the Holy Scriptures, and to exercise themselves so much in works of justice, that many might readily be found there fit for the priesthood and the service of the altar...

...Thus this handmaid of Christ, the Abbess Hilda, whom all that knew her called Mother, for her singular piety and grace, was not only an example of good life, to those that lived in her monastery, but afforded occasion of amendment and salvation to many who lived at a distance, to whom the blessed fame was brought of her industry and virtue...

...When she had governed this monastery many years, it pleased Him Who has made such merciful provision for our salvation, to give her holy soul the trial of a long infirmity of the flesh, to the end that, according to the Apostle’s example, her virtue might be made perfect in weakness. Struck down with a fever, she suffered from a burning heat, and was afflicted with the same trouble for six years continually; during all which time she never failed either to return thanks to her Maker, or publicly and privately to instruct the flock committed to her charge; for taught by her own experience she admonished all to serve the Lord dutifully, when health of body is granted to them, and always to return thanks faithfully to Him in adversity, or bodily infirmity. In the seventh year of her sickness, when the disease turned inwards, her last day came, and about cockcrow,
having received the voyage provision of Holy Housel, and called together the handmaids of Christ that were within the same monastery, she admonished them to preserve the peace of the Gospel among themselves, and with all others; and even as she spoke her words of exhortation, she joyfully saw death come, or, in the words of our Lord, passed from death unto life.

That same night it pleased Almighty God, by a manifest vision, to make known her death in another monastery, at a distance from hers, which she had built that same year, and which is called Hacanos. There was in that monastery, a certain nun called Begu, who, having dedicated her virginity to the Lord, had served Him upwards of thirty years in the monastic life. This nun was resting in the dormitory of the sisters, when on a sudden she heard in the air the well-known sound of the bell, which used to awake and call them to prayers, when any one of them was taken out of this world, and opening her eyes, as she thought, she saw the roof of the house open, and a light shed
from above filling all the place. Looking earnestly upon that light, she saw the soul of the aforesaid handmaid of God in that same light, being carried to heaven attended and guided by angels. Then awaking, and seeing the other sisters lying round about her, she perceived that what she had seen had been revealed to her either in a dream or a vision; and rising immediately in great fear, she ran to the virgin who then presided in the monastery in the place of the abbess, and whose name was Frigyth, and, with many tears and lamentations, and heaving deep sighs, told her that the Abbess Hilda, mother of them all, had departed this life, and had in her sight ascended to the gates of eternal light, and to the company of the citizens of heaven, with a great light, and with angels for her guides. Frigyth having heard it, awoke all the sisters, and calling them to the church, admonished them to give themselves to prayer and singing of psalms, for the soul of their mother; which they did earnestly during the remainder of the night; and at break of day, the brothers came with news of her death, from the place where she had died. They answered that they knew it before, and then related in order how and when they had learnt it, by which it appeared that her death had been revealed to them in a vision that same hour in which the brothers said that she had died. Thus by a fair harmony of events Heaven ordained, that when some saw her departure out of this world, the others should have knowledge of her entrance into the eternal life of souls. These monasteries are about thirteen miles distant from each other..."

Monday, November 15, 2010

"Be Glad and Rejoice Forever In What I Am Creating..."

It's been a busy last few days, so I'm way behind on the blog. Sunday morning I was thinking about some of the Scripture passages for Proper 28, in particular from Isaiah 65:17-25 and Luke 21:5-19.  Lotta talk about creating "new heavens and a new earth", about rejoicing and delighting in the people, about no more weeping being heard. That was Isaiah. Luke's message was more of a "downer": talk about no stone being left upon another, of wars and insurrections, of nations and other entities squabbling among themselves, of earthquakes, famines, plagues -- even talk of being arrested, persecuted. Well, I have to confess, that was a bit like reading the morning newspaper these days!

I'd just returned from our Diocese's 100th Convention which, though it had distinct moments of great joy and celebration, was also tinged with the memory of the recent fire which devastated the River City Food Bank in Sacramento, and did a pretty good job also on our adjacent Office of the Bishop. Bishop Beisner lost most of his vestments. All but one of the portraits of our previous Bishops were lost, not to mention things like stationery, computers and other essential office equipment and furniture, plus some of the personal items of all our supporting staff members. "Ashes to ashes, dust to dust..."

In addition, at the Convention we were asked to approve the dissolution of St. Mark's Parish, Yreka, whose Vestry unanimously voted for the action. The congregation had dwindled to a very few, and there weren't enough leaders to carry on the work. We all experienced a noticeable hush when the vote was taken. A sad moment.

Nevertheless, I personally felt that there was a distinctly positive tone in the Convention deliberations overall, a growing sense that, with all the change about us, we're being asked to change, to explore unfamiliar territory in our ministry and mission all over the Diocese, in every area. Along with that, it seemed apparent that there's a willingness to strike out in that direction, motivated by the consistent reminder of Bishop Beisner, ever since his consecration: "Focus on the mission; stay together; keep moving forward in the name of Christ."

I returned from Convention, motivated particularly by the words and example of our young leaders, clergy and lay, within the Diocese. Our new, of one year, Youth Coordinator, Monica Romano, gave an exceptional reflection to the Convention: realistic, born of her experience this past year in moving about the Diocese, rooted in the Gospel message and in the person of Jesus. If her spirit is any indication, and I believe it clearly is, there is definitely hope.

Which made another passage, from Isaiah 12, come alive for me: "Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for God is my strength and my might..." Whatever God is creating in this place, it is good, it is very good!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

To Be A Praise of Glory

From a letter to Abbé Angles, curate of the Church of St. Hilaire, Dijon, and a  friend of Elizabeth and her family from the time she was about 9 years old:

"I am going to tell you a very personal secret: my dream is to be 'the praise of His glory.' I read that in Saint Paul and my Bridegroom made me understand that this was to be my vocation while in exile, waiting to go sing the eternal Sanctus in the City of the saints. But that requires great fidelity, for in order to be a praise of glory, one must be dead to all that is not He, so as to be moved only by His touch, and the worthless Elizabeth does such foolish things to her Master; but like a tender Father, He forgives her, His divine glance purifies her and, like Saint Paul, she tries 'to forget what lies behind and press on toward what is ahead.' How we feel the need to be sanctified, to forget ourselves in order to belong wholly to the interests of the Church...Poor France! I love to cover her with the blood of the Just One, 'of Him who is always living to intercede and to ask mercy.' What a sublime mission the Carmelite has; she is to be mediatrix with Jesus Christ, to be another humanity for Him in which He can perpetuate His life of reparation, sacrifice, praise, and adoration. Oh, ask Him that I may be equal to my vocation and not abuse the graces He lavishes on me; if you knew how fearful that makes me sometimes...Then I cast myself on Him whom Saint John calls 'the Faithful and True,' and I beg Him to be Himself my fidelity!...

Happy 2nd Anniversary!

"The Good Heart" is still beating after two years!

I've noticed on a lot of blogs that things seem to fizzle out around two or so years after beginning, and the writing is discontinued. With our blog, I'm feeling as good about it as when we started in 2008, in fact, even better! I suspect we're a little off the online beaten path, but indications are that there's sufficient interest still. I don't get a lot of feedback, but enough to assure me that the blog is worthwhile to folks. So, onward and upward into the third year! Many thanks to all of you who've vocalized/e-mailed your support!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Caring For the Dead

My neighbor is currently taking care of his mother's Alaskan Husky dog while she's travelling. It's a magnificently beautiful beast! What amazes me is that I've rarely heard it bark. But at various times of the day or night, presumably because of loneliness, it does what I can only describe as "keening": a soft, drawn-out mournful, longing sound. It's actually quite touching, and certainly puts me in mind today, Dia de los Muertos, of all the Holy Souls who've lived and died before us. The keening well expresses my mood today as I think about beloved family members and dear friends who have gone on beyond.

I used the Roman Catholic Office of Matins today, and got a good dose of how the great St. Augustine felt about the dead and am happy to share it with you. This is a small section from his treatise On The Care To Be Had For the Dead:

"The embalming of a corpse, the situation of the tomb, the funeral procession, are a consolation to the living rather than assistance to the dead. Yet it does not follow that the bodies of the dead are to be neglected or flung aside, especially not the bodies of holy and faithful persons, since these bodies were once the instruments and vessels used hallowedly by these souls to do all their good works. A father's ring, his robe, or some other belonging is dear to those left behind in proportion to the affection borne towards this parent. The bodies of the dead are not to be uncared for in any way, since these bodies are dearer and nearer to us than any garment. These bodies are not ornaments or aids applied from without: they are of human nature itself. Therefore, in ancient days, the funerals of just persons were arranged with holy attention; their obsequies fittingly celebrated, their tombs prepared. Such people while still alive gave strict instructions to their children about the way they were to be buried, or where their bodies were to be carried and entombed.

Remembrance and prayers for the dead are signs of true affection when they are offered for the departed ones by the faithful most dear to them. There can be no doubt but that these prayers help after life those souls who, while alive, merited them. Should some emergency prevent the bodies of the dead from being buried at all, should lack of facilities hinder them from resting in a holy place, prayers for the souls of these dead should not be neglected. The Church has taken upon herself, as an obligation, prayers for the dead; for all the dead who have died in the Christian and catholic fellowship, mentioning them not by name, but under a general commemoration. Those who lack parents, sons and daughters, kindred or friends have the benefits of these offices provided for them by the one holy Mother, common to us all. But if these suffrages for the dead, offered with faith and piety were lacking, I doubt whether it would profit these souls one iota, no matter how holy might be the places where the lifeless bodies were laid.

Since this is so, let us reflect that nothing we do for the dead whom we love matters to them, except what we solemnly supplicate for them through the Sacrifice of the altar, or through prayers and almsgiving. Yet, these prayers do not benefit all for whom they are offered, but those only who, while alive, merited that they should be benefited after death. But since we cannot know who these dead may be, it is proper to pray for all regenerate souls, lest there be forgotten one soul these benefits should and ought to reach. It is better that these suffrages be offered, even though offered in vain for those they can neither hinder nor help, than left undone for those they might have helped. Most people, however, do these things meticulously for each of his or her own near and dear friends, in the hope that his or her friends may do the same in his or her behalf. The care bestowed upon the burial of the body is no aid to salvation. It is merely an act of humanity regulated by affection, for 'no one hates their own flesh'. It is most proper that one should care for one's neighbor's corpse as best one can. If these offices are paid to the dead, even by those who do not believe in the resurrection of the body, how much more should they be paid by those who do believe in the resurrection on the last day. Thus these duties toward a body which, although dead, is destined to rise again and to live throughout eternity, are, in a way, a testimony of faith in that belief.

Eternal Lord God, you hold all souls in life: Give to your
whole Church in paradise and on earth your light and your
peace; and grant that we, following the good examples of
those who have served you here and are now at rest, may at
the last enter with them into your unending joy; through
Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the
unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, November 1, 2010

"Surrounded By So Great A Cloud of Witnesses..."

"You'd better be nice to all the saints today...they're going to have a say in where you sit in the heavenly bleachers." My friend, Fr. Leo Joseph, and I were bantering again this morning on the phone. He jokingly replied: "At those heavenly liturgies I'll probably be back in the sacristy, ironing linens!" Being able to share such humor, even in the midst of our anticipation of Leo's "going home" soon because of advanced cancer, is quite refreshing. The theology and reality of the Communion of the Saints is increasingly dear to my heart and soul as I, too, look ahead to the experience of human death. It's one teaching which evokes for me a tremendous hope of joy in eternal life beyond. I look, with deepening anticipation, to being reunited with those whom I love and who have gone before me, as well as to being with (can you imagine?!) the many saints whom I've admired and communicated with by prayer through the years. The following piece by St. Bernard, taken from the Divine Office for the feast of All Saints, helps put this in perspective for me, and I wanted to share it.   

"Why should our praise and glorification, or even the celebration of this feast day mean anything to the saints? What do they care about earthly honors when their heavenly Father honors them by fulfilling the faithful promise of the Son? What does our commendation mean to them? The saints have no need of honor from us; neither does our devotion add the slightest thing to what is theirs. Clearly, if we venerate their memory, it serves us, not them. But I tell you, when I think of them, I feel myself inflamed by a tremendous yearning.

Calling the saints to mind inspires, or rather arouses in us, above all else, a longing to enjoy their company, so desirable in itself. We long to share in the citizenship of heaven, to dwell with the spirits of the blessed, to join the assembly of patriarchs, the ranks of the prophets, the council of apostles, the great host of martyrs, the noble company of confessors and the choir of virgins. In short, we long to be united in happiness with all the saints. But our dispositions change. The Church of all the first followers of Christ awaits us, but we do nothing about it. The saints want us to be with them, and we are indifferent. The souls of the just await us, and we ignore them.

Come, let us at length spur ourselves on. We must rise again with Christ, we must seek the world which is above and set our mind on the things of heaven. Let us long for those who are longing for us, hasten to those who are waiting for us, and ask those who look for our coming to intercede for us. We should not only want to be with the saints, we should also hope to possess their happiness. While we desire to be in their company, we must also earnestly seek to share in their glory. Do not imagine that there is anything harmful in such an ambition as this; there is no danger in setting our hearts on such glory.

When we commemorate the saints we are inflamed with another yearning: that Christ our life may also appear to us as he appeared to them and that we may one day share in his glory. Until then we see him, not as he is, but as he became for our sake. He is our head, crowned, not with glory, but with the thorns of our sins. As members of that head, crowned with thorns, we should be ashamed to live in luxury; his purple robes are a mockery rather than an honor. When Christ comes again, his death shall no longer be proclaimed, and we shall know that we also have died, and that our life is hidden with him. The glorious head of the Church will appear and his glorified members will shine in splendor with him, when he forms this lowly body anew into such glory as belongs to himself, its head.

Therefore, we should aim at attaining this glory with a wholehearted and prudent desire. That we may rightly hope and strive for such blessedness, we must above all seek the prayers of the saints. Thus, what is beyond our own powers to obtain will be granted through their intercession."
 (From a sermon by St. Bernard of Clairvaux: Sermo 2: Opera omnia)