Elizabeth Catez was born in 1880 in Avor, France. Her father was an army captain and died when she was seven. She had a younger sister, nicknamed Guite, to whom she was close. It was at that age of seven that Elizabeth told a family friend that she would one day be a nun. On her twenty-first birthday she had her mother’s blessing at last to enter the Carmelite monastery in Dijon, close to her home. Elizabeth became ill shortly after entering Carmel and suffered for five years from a stomach ailment, now thought to have been Addison’s disease, incurable at the time. In the midst of her suffering, her sister nuns came to discover how much Elizabeth was a great lover of Jesus and a true friend to them. She died November 9, 1906, at age 26. Her last words were: “I am going to Light, to Love, to Life!”
Let us be inspired by what she wrote in her spiritual journal:
"It seems to me that I have found my heaven on earth, because my heaven is you, my God, and you are in my soul. You in me, and I in you – may this be my motto. What a joyous mystery is your presence within me, in that intimate sanctuary of my soul where I can always find you, even when I do not feel your presence. Of what importance is feeling? Perhaps you are all the closer when I feel you less."
Today is the Feast of the Ascension.
On March 1, 1845, the Diocese of Maryland’s Convention approved formation of Ascension Church, carving it out of St. John’s Lafayette Square. (The Diocese of Washington wasn’t created until 1895). In June, 1874, financier William W. Corcoran donated land at 12th and Massachusetts, and construction began at the present location.
So Ascension has been in our church’s DNA, if you will, since its inception. It’s traditionally celebrated 40 days after Easter, always on a Thursday (though it’s often translated -- moved -- to the following Sunday). It’s an ancient feast, mentioned by Eusebius in the fourth century and St. Augustine in the fifth century.
Ascension commemorates Jesus’ departure from earth to heaven. It’s described in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24: 44-53) and in Acts (Acts 1:1-11). It is central to our faith. Jesus, sitting at the right hand of God, advocates for us with God. He offers the promise that our spirits, too, will rise. Most important, He sends the Holy Spirit to us, as he promised.
These days, we reaffirm this in our liturgy. In the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God.” In the Sursum Corda, we pray “Lift up your hearts” to lift our hearts and spirits to commune with the risen God, through the Holy Spirit.
You have a great opportunity to learn more on-line this Sunday, May 24 at 9:15 a.m.
Rev. Dr. Sarah Coakley, our assisting priest and resident theologian, and Dr. William Werpehowski, Chair, Department of Religion, Georgetown University will discuss, “Ascension – What Does it mean for us that Christ ‘Ascended into Heaven?’”
Check out the School of Theology to register for a thought-provoking talk!
And Happy Ascension Day!
Tomorrow is the fortieth day of Easter Season, Ascension Day, one of the seven principal feasts of the Episcopal Church. The mystery of Christ’s Ascension, commemorated on this day, is also recognized in the name of our parish.
The Ascension is the subject of two common misunderstandings. In his Ascension, our Lord did not shed his body or his human nature as though It were a winter coat. Instead, he continues as one person, both divine
and human. He ascended as an embodied, glorified human being.
The Ascension is misunderstood if it is seen simply as a departure, an exit.
Jesus does not so much leave as he becomes present and accessible in a new way. God is everywhere, all the time. With the Ascension, God incarnate becomes present everywhere, all the time. This mystery means that the universe, all creation becomes “christified” and “humanized.”
So Christ is now available to us in all circumstances, whether they are marked by joy or sorrow. We can go forth each morning to encounter Jesus Christ concealed in all of life, absolutely all of life, for he waits for us there.
Our Church Kalendar for this week designates Monday through Wednesday as Rogation Days, from the Latin rogare, to entreat. It originated as a pagan festival of procession through newly planted fields, with prayer that the eventual harvest not be spoiled by crop disease. After Christianization, when the festival was adopted in rural England, it became a procession around the perimeter of the local parish, blessing the fields and checking boundary markers with the neighboring parish. The procession was called “beating the bounds.” As the rector walked together with the local squire and other parishioners they also checked for within-parish boundary issues as they greeted people they encountered—for example, encroachments on tillable field plots or on right of way between adjoining fields. Disputes over these matters could be settled informally without having to go to the squire’s court. The rogation processions showed that the Church was concerned not just with what was happening inside the walls of its worship building, but with the activity of everyday life in the whole geographic parish, including the mundane conduct of the central aspects of rural economic life—right relationships in tending and harvesting the fields.
Our parish does not have geographic boundaries in the same way as in England, and we are located in a city rather than in countryside. So, we can’t bless the fields, thump parish boundary stones with our walking sticks, and resolve local disputes. Yet, we too are concerned not only for what happens inside the walls of our church building but also what happens in its immediate area. If you draw a circle around Ascension and St. Agnes with a radius of just a half-mile, think of all that is included in that space. There are lobbying firms on K Street, pastry shops, embassies, think tanks, schools, grocery stores, hotels, and the city’s conference center. There are expensive apartment buildings and publicly assisted living units. There are people who are economists and people who are homeless, entrepreneurs and janitors, physicians and lawyers and schoolteachers. People from all the world’s races, speaking numerous languages. People with differing strengths and differing primary thirsts: for success, for food and shelter, for profit, for safety, for knowledge, for dignity, for meaning, for community, for God. It’s a cross section of America—at least, of urban America. People who are mutually interdependent, some without realizing this, joined in right relationships and wrong relationships. How do we as a parish engage this?
In our current situations of isolation that exploration has to be an exercise of imagination, not of physical presence—a virtual rogation procession. But we have been given time now for such reflection. As things begin to open up and we return physically to the church community we love and have missed so much, we can develop new awareness of our church’s surround--the parish in a geographic sense. It is a particular place to which we have been drawn by God. We can envision new ways of connecting with our neighbors beyond the building’s walls, witnessing to God’s love and God’s concerns for justice. This presents both challenge and opportunity for the future. Let us engage these, by God’s help, with hope. But, for now, virtual rogation and the beginnings of discernment.
Acceptance is difficult. Well, let me speak for myself! Accepting things as they are is difficult for me. I so often want things—especially people!—to be different. Imagine life a play. I would be the set designer and the director—which, of course, everyone ignores! To the degree I persist in unacceptance, however, I am unhappy. It is as simple as that.
One of my favourite musical groups growing up was the Irish band, U2. An early song of theirs was called “Rejoice”. In it, the singer, Bono, sings, “I can't change the world, but I can change the world in me…if I rejoice.” There you have it: the key that opens the door to happiness is acceptance. To accept is not to approve or to feel comfortable with or to be resigned to. To accept is, well, to accept, to welcome.
Let us welcome people, places and situations as they are and focus on what needs to be changed in us. Then, we can really discern the hand of God. Then, we can really experience the love of God.
While pondering what to write this week, a fellow deacon sent me a pamphlet entitled, “Spiritual First Aid.” Published by the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI), it’s a compendium of advice for helping people in times of crisis. (HDI is a faith-based academic research center.) In it is a list of Scriptures that have been found to be comforting. Here are some of them.
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers,
nor things present, nor things to come,
nor power, nor heights, nor depth
nor anything else in all creation,
will be able to separate us
from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.
1 Peter 5:7
Bear one another’s burdens
and in this way you will fulfill the laws of Christ.
The pamphlet also offers, in its 54 pages, some advice for coping.
In 2009, the Episcopal Church established May 13 as the feast of Frances Perkins. She was the first woman to serve in a presidential cabinet, and was arguably the most influential cabinet secretary ever. As Franklin Roosevelt’s Labor Secretary throughout his presidency (1932-45), she became the driving force behind many New Deal programs that remain the foundation of the American social safety net. A devout Anglo-Catholic, she spent a day every month in retreat at an Episcopal convent during her Washington years. While considering the offer to serve as Labor Secretary, Perkins consulted Bishop Charles Gilbert of the Diocese of New York. He wrote to her in part, “Men will think only of the great distinction that comes with the high office to which you go. They will be quite unmindful of the fact that there would be no distinction in that office did it not carry with it a crushing burden or responsibility. But, if it is a job to which God has assigned you, what man thinks is of no consequence.” Frances Perkins took up the cross offered to her and followed Jesus.
The whole season of Easter is a time for reflection on Baptism. In the ancient Church adult converts were baptized at the Easter Vigil and then given daily instruction by the local bishop during the following fifty days. Before Baptism the converts were taught salvation history from the Hebrew scriptures—only after Baptism were they taught from the New Testament. This underscored the importance of Baptism as entry into new life. In addition the converts’ memories of the Baptismal liturgy recalled vivid experience in a rite of passage. In darkness they had removed all their old clothes, been immersed in water, and raised up as the sun rose, to be dried off and dressed in new clothes—a white tunic we call an alb. After that they were anointed with oil and shared for the first time in the community’s thanksgiving meal. They not only received the bread and wine that we still share today. They were also given a drink from a cup of milk and honey, since through their Baptism and full participation in the Eucharist they had entered the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey.
Many of us, baptized as infants, do not have vivid sensory memories that we can revisit as we reflect on the significance of our own Baptism. But all of us can make direct contact with Baptism’s meanings by tasting milk and honey. Here’s a simple recipe: To one cup of milk add three tablespoons of honey and a pinch of salt. Mix thoroughly in a blender or food processor. Or mix by hand, in that case using milk at room temperature. Chill and serve—a quarter cup per person. (Extend the amounts as needed.) As you sip the milk and honey say a brief prayer of thanks for your Baptism.
Milk and honey is wonderfully sweet, and tasting it—as a form of gustatory prayer—is a vivid experience. It reminds us that in spite of all the troubles we face now we have indeed been delivered out of slavery to sin and death and from wanderings in the wilderness. In Baptism and Eucharist, freed from Egypt as members of the New Israel, we have entered the Promised Land.
Milk and honey is wonderfully sweet. Try it. You’ll like it.
The Reverend Frederick Erickson, a retired university professor, assists as a deacon at Church of the Ascension and St. Agnes.
Jonathan Sacks tells this story about Itzhak Perlman.
Born in 1945, Perlman contracted polio when he was four years old. Since then, he has had to wear metal braces on his legs. He walks with crutches. Over the years, Perlman became one of the most celebrated violinists of our time. He has performed all over the world.
At one concert, Itzhak Perlman came out on stage to play a violin concerto. He lay down his crutches, placed the violin under his chin, and began to tune the instrument. A crack sounded forth, audible to many in the audience. One of the strings had snapped. Rather than sending for a new string, Perlman signaled for the orchestra conductor to begin and then went on to play the concerto using the three remaining strings on his violin. Once the concerto was over, the audience rose up in applause and called on Perlman to speak. What he said was this: “Our task is to make music with what remains.”
Our Church Kalendar today commemorates Monica, the 4th century woman from what is now Algeria, who was the mother of St. Augustine. She was a Christian, but her husband and mother-in-law were pagans and her son Augustine had become a Manichean—a new religion competing with Christianity. Monica prayed for their conversions, providing for them a personal example of faithful devotion to God and care for the poor. Eventually their conversions happened but not overnight—in Augustine’s case he was not baptized until age 31. Her husband and mother-in-law had been baptized sooner.
Given what we know about our own family relationships we can infer that Monica’s longing for the conversion of her husband, mother-in-law, and son and her endurance in persuasion was not a matter of complaining, nagging, and whining. She must have been patient, although not passively so, much less passively aggressive (“Never mind, I’ll just sit in the dark.”). It would have been a kindly patience, infused with hope. St Paul says in his letter to the Romans (5:4) “suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope.” As the years went by Monica never gave up hope. She was sustained and transformed by its continuing. In time even her mother-in-law became a Christian—and we can call that a miracle!
As we live now in times of suffering, with no quick resolution in sight, Monica’s example of perseverance in hope speaks directly to us and our situation. “Blessed Monica, pray with us and for us now, that we may join you in active and resilient patience—in hope that never gives up.”
Even her mother-in-law? . . . wow.
The Rev. Frederick Erickson, a retired university professor,