Monday, January 26, 2015

"For Me To Live Is Christ"

From a homily of St. John Chrysostom, Bishop of Constantinople (407):

"The one thing [Paul] feared, indeed dreaded, was to offend God; nothing else could sway him. Therefore, the only thing he really wanted was always to please God.

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ. Enjoying this love, he considered himself happier than anyone else…

To be separated from that love was, in his eyes, the greatest and most extraordinary of torments; the pain of that loss would alone have been hell, and endless, unbearable torture…

So too, in being loved by Christ he thought of himself  as possessing life, the world, the angels, present and future, the kingdom, the promise and countless blessings. Apart from that love nothing saddened or delighted him; for nothing earthly did he regard as bitter or sweet…"

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Week of Prayer for Unity & Intereligious Dialogue

During the week beginning on the feast of the Confession of St. Peter, January 18, and continuing through January 25, the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Church celebrates a Week of Prayer for Unity and Interreligious Dialogue. Though originally designed and commonly understood to pray for Christian unity, in more recent years it has widened in scope to include interfaith involvement. 
This ecumenical week began in the little New York community of Peekskill, specifically on a remote hillside 5 miles away, called Graymoor, home to a small Episcopal religious community of friars and sisters, who were quite controversial and unpopular in the Episcopal Church. At a time when religious community members were often suspected as “advance agents” for a Roman Catholic takeover of the Protestant Episcopal Church, the Graymoor Franciscans, “eccentrics”, as they were called, did very little to allay such suspicions.

Fr. Paul Wattson and Mother Lurana White, co-founders of the Graymoor Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Atonement, quite openly advocated for a reunion of Anglicans with Rome and recognition of the papacy. Most Protestants and even some Catholics were astounded by the idea. Because of their committed stance, the Graymoors were under enormous pressure from church leaders and editors to abandon their efforts. Fr. Paul was shunned in most Episcopal pulpits, and Mother Lurana had to literally send her sisters out begging just to keep the Society of the Atonement alive.
Nevertheless, Fr. Paul and Mother Lurana pursued their perceived God-given mission: to seek a coming together of divided Christian churches. The idea of a period of prayer for Christian unity came up in a conversation between Fr. Wattson and an Anglican clergyman in England, The Rev. Spencer Jones. In the autumn of 1907, Fr. Jones suggested an annual day of prayer for Christian unity. Fr. Wattson concurred, but simultaneously conceived the idea of a Church Unity Week or “Octave”, to be observed for eight days between January 18 and 25, the dates of the two feasts mentioned earlier. The first attempt at the observance, held in the small, gloomy Graymoor chapel in 1908, met with lukewarm response, at best. 
Fr. Paul and Mother Lurana, because of their pro-Roman leanings, finally asked to be admitted into the Roman Catholic Church, and in October, 1909, Pius X received the whole Society of the Atonement as a body. Eventually, the Octave became very popular, but almost exclusively in the Roman Catholic Church. Other Christian bodies held observances of their own, more compatible with their theology and spirituality.
A number of historical movements towards Christian unity, from the 18th century on, preceded the Graymoors’ efforts.  In the 19th century, the desire for Christians to pray together was occasioned by the divisions which weakened the power of Christian witness. In 1846 the Evangelical Alliance was established in London and developed both international and inter-church connections. The Association for the Promotion of the Unity of Christians was founded in 1857 with Anglican, Roman Catholic and Orthodox participation. The Popes had consistently urged Roman Catholics to pray for Christian unity, but only from the particular stance of return to the Roman Catholic fold. The Lambeth Conferences, particularly in 1878, during this period also promoted prayer for Christian unity.
In 1913 the Faith and Order Commission of the Protestant Episcopal Church issued a number of publications for Christian unity, and the preparatory Conference on Faith and Order at Geneva in 1920 appealed for a special week of prayer for Christian unity. Faith and Order continued to issue "Suggestions for an Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity" until 1941 when it changed the dates for its week to that of the January Octave. In this way, Christians, who for reasons of conscience, could not join with others in prayer services could still share in united prayer at a specific time. 

In 1935 Abbé Paul Couturier, a French priest, addressed this problem by promoting prayer for Christian unity on the inclusive basis that "our Lord would grant to his Church on earth that peace and unity which were in his mind and purpose, when, on the eve of His Passion, He prayed that all might be one." A huge ecumenical step was taken in 1964 with the issuing of the Decree on Ecumenism of Vatican Council II. The Decree was clear for Roman Catholics: "In certain special circumstances, such as in prayer services for unity and during ecumenical gatherings, it is allowable, indeed desirable, that Catholics should join in prayer with their separated brethren. Today the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity and Interreligious Dialogue belongs to all people of faith who wish, as Jesus did, "that all may be one". The formation of official ecumenical dialogues among Christians and between non-Christian bodies reinforces the value of such a yearly observance.

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

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Jesus the Christ, Savior

Luke 2:15-21 tells us of angelic words spoken to common sheep-tenders: "Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you: he is Christ the Lord." The child referred to is Jesus of Nazareth who historically bore the name Yeshua/Joshua bar Joseph. The name derives from yasha = to be open, wide free: to save. Jesus signifies "He [God] saves." A Jewish name stood for the person and indicated something about her/his history, purpose, and mission in life. The name Yeshua was a fairly common one. There had been many "saviors" in the history of God's people, but this Jesus, son of Mary and Joseph, was to be the Savior, the Anointed One of the Lord.

Many of us may have been asked, at one time or another, "Are you saved?" That usually implies our ability to cite a specific time or date of a religious experience or conversion, or it implies that some common ground is provided in conversation between the questioner & us, as in "Are you part of the club, the 'in' group?" A positive reply allows the questioner to associate with you; a negative reply causes the questioner's defenses to go up and draw away. 

When I hear that question, "Are you saved?", I think back to some comments made by my son's school principal in a 1981 PTA newsletter: "The greatest problem facing our world today is that of man's relationship to his fellow man…The human ability to accept others is the brightest light in the darkness of this world…I am convinced that the answers to this problem lie within each of us. The light is there for us to use as individuals, as a community of persons, as a community of nations. Yet we continue to withhold ourselves from others -- we cut them off -- we don't believe in them -- we don't accept them as being one of us because of a difference in age, sex, color, viewpoint or speech. Darkness is nothing -- as soon as we turn the light on it disappears…At this time of year, just think what benefit we can provide for those who inhabit our small corner of the world and even for ourselves if we turn on the light of affection, concern, sympathy, understanding and love for our fellowman…It is not so difficult to give of ourselves -- to open the gates of our attitudes -- so that we can share ourselves with those who may have differing viewpoints…It is our potential to give freely and lavishly of [our gifts]."

What a wonderfully simple, direct, practical message, yet one which virtually expresses the essential wisdom and meaning of such phrases as "Are you saved?", "He saved us", "Jesus saves". The fact is that Jesus wouldn't withhold himself from humankind. "The Word became flesh and pitched his tent among us."  He accepted us. He accepts us always, even despite what we've been in the past and often are in the present. St. Paul reminds us: "…when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy…" Regardless of how we are, Jesus accepts us.

How might you and I spread the light of our "affection, concern, sympathy, understanding and love to our fellowman", mentioned above? You and I have so many simple saving gifts which we can give to one another all year long: a smile; offering to wash the dishes or to cook a meal for someone; forgiving an old grudge or hurt; propagating good news, rather than just the negative or gossip; saying "Please" and "Thank you"; trying to be understanding of someone's feelings or viewpoint before we grumble at or condemn them.

Somewhere along the line, I'm sure I ran across the name of the person who wrote the following Resolutions but I can't for the life of me remember or track it down. It'll suffice simply to share them in hopes that each of us might be moved by one or other of them as we live through this New Year of 2015.

No one will ever get out of this world alive.
Resolve, therefore, in the year to come to maintain a sense of values.
Take care of yourself. Good health is everyone's source of wealth.
Without it, happiness is almost impossible.
Resolve to be cheerful and helpful. People will repay you in kind.
Avoid angry, abrasive persons. They are generally vengeful.
Avoid zealots. They are generally humorless.
Resolve to listen more and to talk less. No one ever learns anything by talking.
Be chary of giving advice. Wise men don't need it; and fools won't heed it.
Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged,
sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong.
Sometime in life you will have been all of these.
Do not equate money with success. There are many successful money-makers
who are miserable failures as human beings.
What counts most about success is how a man achieves it.
Resolve to love next year someone you didn't love this year.
Love is the most enriching ingredient of life.