Tuesday, May 31, 2011

47th Ordination Anniversary - May 31, 1964

O God, the source of all holiness, whose consecration is ever effective, whose blessing is ever fulfilled, pour out on these servants of yours, whom we now raise to the dignity of the priesthood, the gift of your blessing. By their noble and exemplary lives let them prove that they are really elders of the people, and true to the norms laid down by Paul to Timothy and Titus. Let them meditate on your law day and night, so that they may believe what they have read, and teach what they have believed, and practice what they have taught. May justice, constancy, mercy, courage, and all the other virtues be reflected in their every way of acting. May they inspire others by their example, and hearten them by their admonitions. May they keep pure and spotless the gift of their high calling. For the worship of your people may they change bread and wine into the body and blood of your Son by a holy consecration. May they through persevering charity mature "unto the perfect man, unto the measure of the age of the fulness of Christ," and rise on the day of the just and eternal judgment of God with a good conscience, true faith, and the full gifts of the Holy Spirit. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, forever and ever. Amen. (Rituale Romanum)

Mary's "Heart-Song"

(Statue at Church of the Visitation, Ein Kerem)

The Magnificat (Greek)
Μεγαλύνει ἡ ψυχή μου τὸν Κύριον
καὶ ἠγαλλίασεν τὸ πνεῦμά μου ἐπὶ τῷ Θεῷ τῷ σωτῆρί μου,
ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αυτοῦ.
ἰδού γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί,
ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός,
καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ,
καὶ τὸ ἔλεος αὐτοῦ εἰς γενεὰς καὶ γενεὰς
τοῖς φοβουμένοις αυτόν.
Ἐποίησεν κράτος ἐν βραχίονι αὐτοῦ,
διεσκόρπισεν ὑπερηφάνους διανοίᾳ καρδίας αὐτῶν·
καθεῖλεν δυνάστας ἀπὸ θρόνων
καὶ ὕψωσεν ταπεινούς,
πεινῶντας ἐνέπλησεν ἀγαθῶν
καὶ πλουτοῦντας ἐξαπέστειλεν κενούς.
ἀντελάβετο Ἰσραὴλ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ,
μνησθῆναι ἐλέους,
καθὼς ἐλάλησεν πρὸς τοὺς πατέρας ἡμῶν
τῷ Αβραὰμ καὶ τῷ σπέρματι αὐτοῦ εἰς τὸν αἰῶνα.

The Magnificat (A contemporary translation)
My soul proclaims your greatness, O God, my spirit rejoices in you, my Savior,
for you have looked with favor on your lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
you, the Almighty, have done great things for me, and holy is your name.
You have mercy on those who fear you from generation to generation.
You, O God have shown strength with your arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
Casting down the mighty from their thrones and lifting up the lowly.
You have filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty.
You have come to the help of your servant Israel,
for you have remembered your promise of mercy,
The promise made to our forebears, to Abraham, Sarah, and their children for ever.

Many happy memories emerge when I think of Mary's "heart-song", The Magnificat, the thanksgiving hymn chanted at Vespers commemorating the privilege of Mary's become the Theotokos, the God-bearer, and of God's goodness in redeeming humankind. If I had to pick a favorite hour of the Divine Office, I guess it would be Vespers, largely because of Magnificat hymn. The hymn also recalls for me the many times it was sung by the choir at my home church, St. Matthew's Episcopal Church, Sacramento. In particular, I remember the soprano voice of Mavis Isaacson, who rendered the verses of The Hymnal 1982 version (S 247) with such grace and beauty, backed by the choir's response of the Antiphon.

Try to visualize the setting in which this prayer was first uttered. God's messenger had made Mary aware that she was to be the mother of a son, named Jeshua/Jesus, "the Son of the Most High". Not fully understanding the implications of that great grace, she had no one at hand to whom she could immediately go and pour out her heart's feelings and questions. So she travels into the Judean hill country, to the home of her cousins, Elizabeth and Zechariah, where Elizabeth had been remarkably favored with a similar blessing: the conception of John the Baptizer. Wise in the Spirit, Elizabeth welcomes Mary and acknowledges the great blessing Mary has received. Mary's emotions can no longer contain themselves, and she pours out to her cousin the overflowing gratitude of her heart, for the great dignity which has come to her and for its implications for the lives of many other people. 

Mary's immediate praise and gratitude is for the grace and honor given her by the Almighty, and for God's power, holiness, and mercy. She acknowledges the Holy One's reign over all created beings, particularly God's preferential favor for the humble, the poor and the needy. Finally, Mary praises God for the fulfillment of Israel's Messianic prophecies.

Like all poetry of the Old Testament and of early Christianity, the hymn is quite simple in form. One can easily discern classic Hebrew parallelism in it. The Magnificat came into the liturgy already in the 4th century as part of the Office. There's at least one tradition which attributes its introduction into Vespers to St. Benedict of Nursia, though, in fact, he came on the scene somewhat later.

A friend passed along to me a wonderful thought, from an unpublished talk given in Tucson, AZ, by Fr. Richard Rohr: 
"If Jesus is the archetype of how the divine gift is being given, Mary is the archetype of how the divine gift is always received: it is always totally free and undeserved. The shocking thing is that the Scripture actually says almost nothing about Mary. No credit ratings are stated, no achievements; it doesn’t say she prayed a lot or went to the temple. No talk of heroic deeds, or even love for the poor. She is the poor one herself.

Mary knows how to receive a gift with total freedom, without needing to say 'Lord, I am not worthy.' She knows how to be totally vulnerable and humble before Mystery. Mary knows she did not earn anything. It was all mercy, grace, and God’s utterly free and gratuitous choice. (Mary uses the word “mercy” three times in her Magnificat). Mary had nothing to do with it, except, of course, saying YES to it!
All divine worthiness is given—and received."

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"Greater Works": The Privilege of a Lifetime

The readings for Easter 6 (Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21) raise some really important issues for you and me to reflect on and pray over:
- How are we to bear witness to personal faith in Christ, while living in the midst of a secular society of what William Willimon calls “cultured despisers”? Can we blame people for not taking Christianity seriously when folks like Harold Camping, of recent shame, use baseless and false conjectures like the so-called Rapture as “Christian” teaching?
- What does the reality of suffering in our human lives really mean? And how are we to deal with it?
- How are you and I to follow, to understand/see, and to be with Jesus on whom we’ve chosen to set our hearts and lives?
One couldn’t deal with all of that in a month of Sundays, I think!

Nancy Claire Pittman, professor, ordained Disciples of Christ minister and New Testament scholar, says that what’s “...at issue is how the followers of Jesus will live faithfully once he is no longer with them...How will the disciples and indeed all those who believe in Jesus continue to love him even when he is no longer present? How can they, and we, live in unity with him when his physicality is not available for them, and us, to hold on to?” What St. John has to say in his Gospel, both last Sunday and today begins to address in a profoundly theological way the issues raised by today’s Scriptures. The key question, I think, is what does it mean for you and me today, in the 21st century, to be in relationship with Jesus the Christ? One thing which we can say first is that it surely is not simply some far-off, unattainable goal to which we aspire.

In his masterful book, The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering A Life of Faith, Marcus Borg identifies these central, foundational, affirmations of Christian faith: 1) the reality of God; 2) the centrality of Jesus; and 3) the centrality of the Bible. Of the second one he says: “It means seeing Jesus as the decisive disclosure of God and of what a life full of God looks like. It means affirming Jesus as the Word of God, the wisdom of God, the light of the world, the way, and more, all known in a person…

Borg elaborates on that by describing Jesus, in addition to being a real person, as both a metaphor of God and a sacrament of God. As metaphor of God, “Jesus discloses what God is like. We see God through Jesus...As a metaphor of God, he is the heart of God made flesh.” As a sacrament of God, says Borg, Jesus is “a means through whom the Spirit of God becomes present...I am convinced that Jesus’ followers sometimes experienced the Spirit through him and in him as a palpable presence. And in the centuries since, Jesus continues to be a sacrament of God. The Eucharist of bread and wine is a sacrament of his body and blood whereby we become one with him and thus present to God, and God becomes present to us. The sacred texts about him become a sacrament of God. And the living Christ continues to be known in Christian experience as the presence of God…

In thinking about all this, it might be helpful to briefly look at Chapters 13-17 of John’s Gospel, also called the Book of Glory, which tell us of Jesus’ last gathering with his disciples over a meal. Secondly, we can then how our relationship of being with Jesus might express itself, through hope, in a modern context, in our own daily lives.

John’s 13th chapter begins: “...Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, [he] got up from the table...and began to wash the disciples‘ feet and to wipe them with the towel...After he had washed their feet...he said to them, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?...if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you...I tell you, whoever receives one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me…” Jesus washes their feet prophetically symbolizing his impending death in humiliation in order to
save others. John the Evangelist also recognizes it as an example of humility for the disciples to

Bear in mind that, as Jesus interacts intimately here with his beloved disciples, they’d been with him for the past three years, but, as all the Gospel accounts hint at, what Jesus was trying to tell them often seems to have gone right over their heads.

Jesus now says to them: “...I am to be with you only a little longer...I am giving you a new commandment: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you too must love one another. By this will all identify you as my disciples -- by the love you have for one another…” 

In last Sunday’s passage from Chapter 14, Jesus talked about his going away, urging the disciples not to “let your hearts be troubled”. He mentions “many dwelling places” in the Father’s house, and he assures them that he’s going away precisely to prepare places for them, and that he’ll return again “to take you along with me, so that where I am, you also may be.” The word John uses for dwelling places” can refer to a resting place for a traveler on a journey. Throughout his Gospel, John often uses the idea of staying, remaining, abiding with Jesus and the Father; so also here. As you and I travel the journey of our life, our resting place, our abode or dwelling, is the very Person, the living presence of Jesus and his Father, here and now, just as it will also be our permanent dwelling after death.

Jesus then says: “And you know the way to where I am going…” Clearly frustrated, Thomas objects: “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. So how can we know the way?” The Apostles had some inkling that “the way” was Jesus, but less sense as to where this way leads. Jesus patiently explains: “I am the way and the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me. If you all really knew me, then you would recognize my Father also.” It still doesn’t make sense to Philip: Lord, show us the Father. That’s enough for us.” Once again, Jesus tries to spell it out: “Philip, here I am with you all this time, and you still don’t know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father...The words that I say to you all are not spoken on my own; it is the Father, abiding in me, who performs the works...I am in the Father and the Father is in me…

To express the desire, to say that you and I want to be in relationship with Jesus, is to have it already fulfilled. Jesus the Christ, with the Father and the Spirit of Love, indwells us, ones us to Godself: in our creation, through the cross and resurrection, in our Baptism, and continues to indwell us forever as we pass through this life’s veil. Jesus is the way because he is the truthi.e., the divine reality made understandable through his words and actions; and he is the life, i.e., the divine reality as shared by human beings. Jesus presents himself as the only avenue of salvation, “the way”, because he is the truth, i.e., the only revelation of the Father who is the goal of the journey.

In this passage Jesus speaks as Wisdom personified, hearkening back to the apocryphal book of Sirach, also called Ecclesiasticus, in which Wisdom says: “In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue.” (24:25) Jesus as "the truth" is a description of himself in his mission to us: “The reason I have come into the world is to testify to the truth.” Jesus is also "the way", in the sense that he’s "the life" in terms of his mission to us: “I came that they may have life and have it to the full.” And Jesus always remains the way for us, not just at the moment we first believe. In living as Christian followers of Jesus, you and I share in the power of Jesus’ words and works; in looking at Jesus, we see God; in accepting, setting our heart on, Jesus as the way, we enter into the wisdom and life of the Father. We abide with Jesus.

These rich passages lead us to further profound implications in the vine/branches image which
John uses in Chapter 15 for our call, our ordination, to be part of Jesus’ ministry to one another. “I am
the real vine and my Father is the gardener...Remain in me as I remain in you. Just as a branch cannot
bear fruit by itself, without remaining on the vine, so neither can you bear fruit without remaining in
me...for apart from me you can do nothing...My Father has been glorified in this: in your bearing much
fruit and becoming my disciples...Love one another as I have loved you…

In today's Gospel passage Jesus promises One who will accompany us and the faithful community in its mission, even when it’s treated with hostility and disregard. “...I will ask the Father, and he will give you another...to be with you forever.” The Greek word John uses is parákletos, which can mean something like Advocate/ Comforter/Encourager/Counselor/Ombudsman/Helper. Jesus himself, of course, remains the first Advocate, but
the Spirit will come in his place bringing the truth which Jesus is, something which “the world” can’t receive, but only those who’ve set their hearts on Jesus, Son of the Father. There’s a story about a missionary sent to work among a people whose culture had no word for Paraclete/Advocate. So they created a new phrase in their language, describing the Holy Spirit as “the One who helps you get your heart around the corner”, which is really another way of saying the One who helps us live out Jesus command to “love one another, as I have loved you”.

This brings us to the question of how you and I might embody this reality, this being-with Jesus as a follower in practical day-to-day living. How can we be bearers of hope to a world which has become increasingly cynical,
overwhelmed with suffering, and devoid of much hope? Were St. Paul here today, I believe he’d address that question with the same plea which he made to the Christian community at Ephesus: “therefore...beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… Each one of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift...to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,...promot[ing] the body’s growth in building itself up in love…” (Ephesians 4:1; 7; 12-13; 15-16)

In last Sunday’s Gospel, where Thomas and Philip were having difficulty with Jesus’ idea that, in truly “seeing” him, they, at the same time, come to know the Father, Jesus gives them (and us) a remarkable piece of advice: "believe me [at least] because of the works themselves" because "the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these...However it is that you and I "see", however it is that we set our hearts on Jesus the Christ, which is a description of what hope is, especially in light of all the suffering which surrounds us, all that frustrates and depresses us, particularly the burden of our own personal brokenness, nevertheless, we somehow still find ourselves capable of doing for ourselves and for others "greater works", greater generosity, greater understanding, greater love, than perhaps we ever thought was possible. For the way we’re walking, the truth we’re seeking, and the life for which we’re yearning each and every day all
constitute that “narrow path” which Jesus mentions in Scripture. It’s the path which evolves in ever deepening stages of awareness and consciousness for us of the wholeness and holiness of life, beginning with those quickening moments, those stirrings of love, those fleeting flashes which you and I experience from time to time: in nature; in our times of intimacy; in solitude; in music, poetry and art; in observing children; in helping others; and finally, even in experiencing death, our own or that of others. 

Every such moment is a revelatory moment, in which God in Christ awakens you and me to God already within the being that we are; awakening us to see that you and I possess the capacity to live and move and have our being in habitual awareness of God giving Godself away. Every moment of our existence is the sheer reality of God’s compassionate love. Infinite Love is always in charge, despite all our human failures, shortcomings, tragedies, illnesses, death, and all that is evil around us. Regardless of how things ultimately play out in any one of these given situations or events, Infinite Love always has the last word. Through the mercy and hope which God gives us “new every morning”, we see revealed in “the glory of Christ”, in the “the face of Jesus”, the utter powerlessness and meaninglessness of any of our failures, sufferings, or other negative in our lives to
name or define who we are.

By happenstance, I celebrated Eucharist this morning in the parish to which my friend, Judy Rose, belongs. It's the parish's practice to ask a parishioner each month to write and deliver an "epistle" to the parish on some aspect of gratitude (what we used to call "stewardship"). Again, by happenstance, Judy, in her Epistle to us this morning, unknowingly summed up the point of my homily just about as well as anyone could: “We each have the ability, should we accept our Father’s invitation, to know, love, and serve the God of gods..,to live our lives through the power of his Holy Spirit. Whether we are old or young, healthy or ill, educated or not, rich or poor, male or female -- we are each given equal opportunity...to be made into his hands and feet, his heart and spirit here on earth…The ability to be used as God’s servants, in whatever capacity God chooses for us, is the greatest ability and gift we could be given….to be our Master’s channel of love right here, on our particular spot of earth, is the privilege of a lifetime.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Fresh Air Fund Time Again

(Photo: Susan Woog Wagner)

It's that time again -- Memorial Day Weekend, and the beginning of the summer season...although the chilly, windy weather we're experiencing here in northern California where I live is still a far cry from "summer"!

Each year I try to give my support on the blog to the Fresh Air Fund. It is an eminently worthwhile cause, and provides great delight and joy to many deserving children who, otherwise, probably would have little or no chance to experience the beauty of nature and the companionship of others like them. I commend the Fresh Air Fund to any of our readers, and am providing some FAQs from the Fresh Air website.

*   *    *    *

What is The Fresh Air Fund Friendly Town program?

Summertime is Fresh Air time for thousands of New York City children growing up in disadvantaged communities. The Fresh Air Fund is an independent, not-for-profit agency providing free summer experiences to inner-city youngsters in need. Through The Fund’s Friendly Town program, close to 5,000 children visit volunteer host families each summer in rural and suburban communities. Fresh Air children stay for two weeks or more in over 300 Friendly Towns across 13 Northeastern states from Virginia to Maine and Canada.
Since 1877, more than 1.7 million inner-city children, living in New York City’s toughest neighborhoods, have experienced the joys of Fresh Air experiences. The Fresh Air Fund is primarily supported by the generosity of thousands of contributors. 

Who are the Fresh Air children?

Fresh Air children are boys and girls, from six to 18 years old, who live in New York City. Fresh Air children on first-time visits are six to 12 years old and stay for either one or two weeks. Over 65% of all children are invited back to visit host families, year after year. Many re-invited children enjoy longer summertime visits. Re-invited youngsters may continue with The Fund through age 18.
Children are selected to participate in The Fresh Air Fund Friendly Town program based on financial need. Children are from low-income communities, and often come from families without the money to send their children on summer vacations. Most inner-city youngsters grow up in towering apartment buildings without large, open outdoor play spaces. Concrete playgrounds cannot replace the freedom of running barefoot through the grass or riding bikes down country lanes.   

How are the Fresh Air children selected?

Fresh Air children are registered by more than 90 participating social service and community organizations located in disadvantaged neighborhoods in the five boroughs of New York City. These community-based agencies are in close contact with children in need of summer experiences outside of the city. Each agency is responsible for registering the children for the program. 

Who are the Friendly Town hosts?

Friendly Town host families are volunteers who live in small towns, in the suburbs or on farms. Just like our Fresh Air children, host families represent an infinite variety of people. The Fresh Air Fund does not discriminate among our hosts on the basis of race, religion or sexual orientation. They share a desire to help children in need and broaden their own horizons. Host families say they receive more from the experience than they give. There are no financial requirements for hosting a Fresh Air child. Hosts may request the age-group and gender of their Fresh Air visitor. 

How do local Friendly Towns work?

In every Friendly Town, there is a volunteer committee and Chairperson responsible for the program. The committee publicizes the program, screens applications, checks references, interviews families in their home and approves new hosts. The committee members also make follow-up visits to all participating hosts families every three years. The Friendly Town committee assists hosts while Fresh Air children are visiting and often plans group activities during the trips.
Friendly Town Chairpeople are supervised by regional volunteer Fresh Air Fund Representatives who report to New York City staff. These regional coordinators recruit and train Chairpeople, offer guidance and direction to their local committees, and establish new committees. Fund Representatives help plan transportation, conduct area meetings, help with publicity and work directly with Fresh Air Fund staff in New York City to prepare for each summer. The Fresh Air Fund provides support to Fund Representatives, Chairpeople and host families 24 hours a day, when Fresh Air children are visiting their towns. 

How can communities participate?

Friendly Town communities offer assistance and support to Fresh Air children in many important ways. Local civic organizations often sponsor Friendly Town committees. Their members may serve on the committees or the organization may underwrite local expenses such as postage, mileage and phone bills.
Some civic groups plan summertime picnics for host families and their Fresh Air children. Community sponsorship broadens participation and gives the Friendly Town support on the local level.
Caring individuals and companies offer a great deal of assistance to Friendly Towns. In some communities, local physicians give free medical attention to Fresh Air visitors. Many restaurants, bowling alleys and other family-oriented facilities provide free, enjoyable entertainment and recreational activities. Media coverage and free public service advertisements in newspapers, on television, radio and the Internet help to attract thousands of potential volunteer hosts. Community support is invaluable to a successful Friendly Town program. 

What does The Fresh Air Fund provide?

At The Fresh Air Fund’s main office in New York City, a professional staff oversees the activities of Friendly Town volunteers and assists them in their organizational and recruitment efforts. The Fund works closely with volunteers on policies, procedures, committee development, transportation plans and publicity activities. The Fund also works closely with more than 90 New York City social service and community organizations to register Fresh Air children.
The Fresh Air Fund provides transportation for children to and from Friendly Towns and arranges for payment of any medical expenses for children without insurance. The Fund also provides liability insurance for hosts and committee volunteers.
In addition to the Friendly Town program, The Fund has five camps in upstate New York where 3,000 inner-city children enjoy free vacations each summer. The Fresh Air Fund also runs year-round programs to help New York City youngsters.
DONATE by phone:    1:800-367-0003
DONATE online:         https://web.freshair.org/FafMainWeb/Donations/Donate2.aspx

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Wisdom's Wisdom

The first reading in the Daily Office last week and this week has been from the Book of the Wisdom of Solomon. It's one of the so-called apocrypha = hidden things, defined in the "Outline of the Faith" of the Book of Common Prayer [p. 853] as "a collection of additional books written by people of the Old Covenant, and used in the Christian Church.

These books, also referred to as deuterocanonical books, are works included in the Septuagint, or ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures with additions, or in the Old Latin and Vulgate translations. They are not, however, included in the Hebrew text which constitutes both the canon for Judaism and the Protestant Old Testament. Article VI of the Articles of Religion describes the apocrypha as "...the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth not apply them to establish any doctrine..." John Cosin (1594-1672), English churchman, native of Norwich, England, and bishop of Durham from 1660 until his death in London in 1672, commented on the apocrypha in his A Scholastical History of the Canon of the Holy Scriptures, saying: "...That they who first put these Deutero-canonical or Ecclesiastical books into the volume of the Bible, did not thereby intend to make them equal to the Books of Moses and the Prophets, but only to recommend them unto the private and public reading of the Church, both for the many excellent precepts and examples of life that be in them, and for the better knowledge of the history and estate of God's people from the time of the Prophets to the coming of Christ..." (Chap. XIX)   Cosin, incidentally, also played a prominent part, at the convocation in 1661, in the revision of the Prayer Book, and tried with some success to bring both prayers and rubrics into better agreement with ancient liturgies. He administered the Diocese of Durham successfully for 11 years, using a large share of his revenues to further the Church's interests, and to establish schools and charitable institutions.

Getting back to the Book of Wisdom, it's been particularly interesting reflecting on the passages in light of both the international and American religious, social and cultural background of late. "Love righteousness, you rulers of the earth...wisdom will not enter a deceitful soul...the sound of grumbling does not go unheard. Beware then of useless grumbling, and keep your tongue from slander; because no secret word is without result...Do not...bring on destruction by the works of your hands...the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them..."

Wisdom exposes the false values and twisted thinking of people who are in it for their own greed and gain, with little or no thought to the efficient and peaceful functioning of society, and the common good of all. "For they reasoned unsoundly, saying to themselves...'Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist...Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes...Let none of us fail to share in our revelry; everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this is our lot. Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow or regard the gray hairs of the aged. But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless'..."

The high cost of such mean spiritedness and irresponsibility is hinted at by Wisdom, when, in the end, reality becomes apparent and clear: "The righteous who have died will condemn the ungodly who are living, and youth that is quickly perfected will condemn the prolonged old age of the unrighteous. For [the unrighteous] will see the end of the wise, and will not understand...they will be left utterly dry and barren...their lawless deeds will convict them to their face...they will be shaken with dreadful fear...in anguish of spirit they will groan, and say, 'These are persons whom we once held in derision and made a byword of reproach -- fools that we were!...it was we who strayed from the way of truth...We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction...What has our arrogance profited us? And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?...So we...as soon as we were born, ceased to be, and we had no sign of virtue to show, but were consumed in our wickedness..."

The writer of the Book of Wisdom seems to have attained an understanding of how things really are: "I also am mortal, like everyone else...when I was born, I began to breathe the common air, and fell upon the kindred earth; my first sound was a cry, as is true of all...For no king has had a different beginning of existence; there is for all one entrance into life, and one way out. Therefore I pray, and understanding was given me;...the spirit of wisdom came to me. I preferred her to scepters and thrones, and I accounted wealth as nothing in comparison with her...all gold is but a little sand in her sight...I loved her more than health or beauty...I learned without guile and I impart without grudging...for it is an unfailing treasure for mortals..."

In magnificent poetry, the author continues to extol Wisdom, noting the features which draw one to It: "Wisdom, the fashioner of all things, taught me..." He characterizes Wisdom as the source of intelligence, holiness, uniqueness, clarity, invulnerability, goodness, beneficence, humanity, steadfastness, certainty, freedom from anxiety, and true power. Wisdom, he says, is "more mobile than any motion...she pervades and penetrates all things...nothing defiled gains entrance into her...she renews all things...against wisdom evil does not prevail...she orders all things well.

On a spiritual level, Wisdom is "the breath of the power of God...a spotless mirror of the working of God...an image of God's goodness...God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom..." Nevertheless, human beings seem to keep misreading the signs which are all about them. "For from the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator. Yet these people...perhaps go astray while seeking God and desiring to find God...For while they live among God's works, they keep searching, and they trust in what they see..." Idolatry becomes "the beginning and cause and end of every evil...", resulting in lying, living unrighteously, committing perjury, swearing oaths and expecting no harm.

It's the human condition, the story of us all, the constant daily struggle in which we all engage: to do the right thing, and to avoid the wrong: to come to maturity and true wisdom. The Wisdom writer's ultimate message for us is one of faith, hope and love. "But you, our God, are kind and true, patient, and ruling all things in mercy. For even if we sin we are yours, knowing your power...because we know that you acknowledge us as yours. For to know you is complete righteousness...For in everything, O Lord, you have exalted and glorified your people, and you have not neglected to help them at all times and in all places."   

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Dunstan (c. 909-988): The Contemplative Monk In Action

Dunstan, born c. 909, appeared destined from greatness from his youth. He was schooled by the Irish monks who occupied the Abbey of Glastonbury, and even as a youth Dunstan optimistically envisioned its future restoration.

He eventually became a monk at Glastonbury. Full of enthusiasm, he was instrumental in initiating the rigorous Benedictine Rule there and also in getting the scriptorium reopened so that studies could again begin. He himself was artistically talented, in lettering, pictures, and as an illuminator. He also had expertise working with metal and casting bells. At length, he was made Abbot of Glastonbury.

His monastic successes naturally drew attention to him. He was swept up into English politics at a time when the Church and country were war-ravaged and decaying, serving as Royal Treasurer under King Edred, and then as Bishop of Worcester and London, and Archbishop of Canterbury, under King Edgar. In time, he was responsible for a much more peaceful England, spiritually, socially, and economically.

Dunstan and two of his former pupils, both Bishops also, became "contemplatives-in-action". Theirs was the spirit which, many years later, Thomas Merton would express in A Letter On the Contemplative Life, written in 1967 as a response to Pope Paul VI's for "a message of contemplatives to the world": "...The contemplative life is...the search for peace not in an abstract exclusion of all outside reality, not in a barren negative closing of the senses upon the world, but in the openness of love...The message of hope the contemplative offers...is...that whether you understand or not, God loves you, is present to you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you, and offers you an understanding and light which are like nothing you ever found in books or heard in sermons...it is the intimate union in the depths of your own heart, of God's spirit and your own secret inmost self, so that you and He are in all truth One Spirit..."

On Saturday morning, May 19, 988, Dunstan gathered his clergy. The Mass was celebrated in his presence, after which he received the Last Rites, and died. Dunstan's final words are reported to have been, "He hath made a remembrance of his wonderful works, being a merciful and gracious Lord: He hath given food to them that fear Him.The English people accepted him as a saint shortly thereafter. He was formally canonized in 1029, and later that year, at the Synod of Winchester, Dunstan's feast was ordered to be kept solemnly throughout England. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Easter 4 - The Good Shepherd of Peace & Reconciliation

Note: This was the first homily I ever preached in Spanish, on Easter 4, 2008, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Healdsburg. I’m sure my Spanish is faulty, but the congregation that day assured me that they got the gist of it.

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(Este sermón es una combinación de mis esfuerzos de adaptar un discurso dado por Padre Franco Hegedus, junto con algunos de mis propias ideas. Debo confesar que utilicé un sitio web de la traducción, así que algunas las palabras a lo mejor no son las mejores; si eso es el caso, yo les pido su perdón.)

Hay un obispo Episcopal que adora decir historias que él aprendió de indios americanos, muchos de quienes son Episcopales. Aquí está uno de ellos: Un hombre sabio entre los indios fue preguntado por su nieto acerca del conflicto y la discordia en el mundo hoy. El anciano pensó por un momento y entonces contestó, "Mi niño, hay dos perros que combaten dentro del corazón. Uno está repleto de la ira, del odio, y de la rabia. El otro está repleto del amor, del perdón, y de la paz". El anciano se detuvo, y él y su nieto se sentaron por un momento en el silencio. ¿Finalmente el chico habló, "Abuelo, cuál perro ganará la batalla en el corazón? ¿El uno llenó del odio o el uno llenó del amor"? El anciano miró a su nieto y contestó, "El perro que yo alimento ganaré". 
Nuestro mundo está repleto del conflicto. Nosotros lo podemos ver diario en la televisión y leer acerca de ello en nuestros periódicos. Nosotros lo vemos en nuestras calles. El mundo es a menudo un lugar peligroso, si vivimos en el Oriente Medio o aquí en los Estados Unidos. Todavía, realmente el conflicto siempre es luchado dentro del corazón humano. El hombre sabio indio fue correcto. Demasiado de nosotros alimenta los perros de la ira, de la violencia, y del odio en corazones. 
Jesús supo este bien, porque su mundo fue realmente no diferente de nuestro propio. El corazón humano no cambia tan rápidamente ni fácilmente. El mundo siempre tiene su cuota de "ladrones y bandidos" equiparé para arrebatar y dispersar la multitud, como Jesús elucida en el Evangelio de hoy (San Juan 10:1-10). 
Queremos pensar que estamos en el control de nuestra vida, que nadie nos puede doler si nosotros no los permitimos hacer así, y que ningún problema es tan grande que nosotros no lo podemos resolver. Pero los acontecimientos, especialmente en los pasados pocos años, nos dan razón para dudar esta convicción. Nosotros no somos seguros aún en nuestros propios mundos pequeños: en nuestro país, en nuestras comunidades, en la Iglesia, ni en nuestras familias. Somos tan vulnerables a nuestras propias maldades y defectos como somos vulnerables a terroristas lejanos y revolucionarios. Todos tenemos hambre para el amor y la compasión. Pero el mundo es despedazado por el odio, por la ira, y por la violencia. A pesar de la apariencia de la orden y la disciplina, la condición humana se queda como desordenada y caótica como una multitud de ovejas sin un pastor. 
Quizás nosotros no habíamos escogido la oveja como la imagen para describirse a los cristianos en este mundo de soluciones tecnológicas digitales y sofisticadas. Pero en realidad, es probable que tenemos más en común con la oveja de la historia de Jesús que querríamos admitir. 
Como las multitudes que ellos tendieron, los pastores en el tiempo de Jesús vivieron afuera bajo el sol y la lluvia por días o semanas a la vez. Su trabajo era dificíl.  Pero en contraste a la oveja, los pastores estuvieron atentos y resignados, mirando para el peligro y el problema, proporcionando pasto y agua. El pastor conocía su multitud como ninguna otra persona. Y las ovejas lo siguían porque ellos conocían su voz. 
Jesús se llama "la puerta para la oveja". Algunos eruditos dicen que pastores de ese tiempo colocarían sus propios cuerpos a través de la pequeña apertura del cerco de oveja durante tiempos del peligro, arriesgándose su propia vida por la multitud. Quizás es esta imagen que Jesús tiene presente, su propia presencia extendida para salvar nuestras inseguridades. "Quienquiera que entra por mí," Jesús nos asegura, "será salvado, y entrará y saldrá y encontrará pasto". 
Para nosotros es demasiado fácil perder la dirección en nuestra vida, y desorientarnos y perder nuestro sentido de quienes somos y dónde vamos. Es muy fácil para nosotros extraviar a la oveja perdida. En este instante somos muy vulnerables al "ladrones y bandidos" del mundo, muy vulnerables a los instintos más destructivos que quedan en cada corazón humano: el odio, la ira, y la violencia. Cada uno de nosotros es capaz del pecado y dolor.  Siempre hay varias fuerzas en la guerra dentro de nosotros. ¿Cuáles fuerzas alimentaremos nosotros? 
El obispo, que mentioné antes, quiere terminar su historia del indio anciano de esta manera: "Cuál de los perros ganará"? el chico preguntó a su abuelo. "El que yo alimento ganará," contestó el anciano. Pero entonces él continuó, "Mi niño,  la alimentación de un perro o el otro es sólo parte de la respuesta.  El Espíritu Grande  alimenta cada uno de nosotros. Es por el poder del Espíritu Grande que aprendemos alimentar a los demás". 
Hace tres semanas, en Viernes Santo, un joven atacó y apuñaló a dos chicas en la comunidad de Lago Escondido de Valle, en el Condado de Lago: una chica disminuida, de catorce años de edad, y su hermana pequeña, de diez años de edad. La chica más vieja, aunque fue herida, pudo correr a la casa de su familia para la ayuda. La niña fue tomada al Hospital de la Comunidad de Redbud, pero los médicos no la pudieron salvar su vida. Más tarde, en la primera declaración pública de la familia de la chica, su padre, Dr. Ronald Walker, que ha ayudado a muchas pobres en su comunidad como un médico, dijo esto: "Perdonamos al hombre que tomó a nuestra hija de nosotros...porque perdonando a los otros, nosotros mismos somos perdonado". Eso es una expresión asombrosa de la fe y la compasión genuina: un ejemplo verdadero de la presencia del Espíritu Santo de Jesús resucitado. 
Hemos venido esta tarde al banquete del Pascual ansiosos para comer de la abundancia de Señor. Nuestra corazones escuchan para la voz del buen Pastor que puede traer nos la paz y reconciliación de Dios, si nosotros lo pedimos.  Aunque nuestro mundo continúa ser un lugar de la ira, de la violencia, y del peligro,  aquí encontramos el Espíritu Santo de Jesús resucitado.  Aquí el banquete nos alimenta para el viaje adelante.  Cuando somos alimentados, nosotros ahora estamos dispuestos para salir de aquí y para alimentar a los demás en el nombre de Cristo.