Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Tomorrow is the feast of St. Agnes and next Sunday, January 24, is when our parish will observe this feast.
We are fortunate to have what is believed to be a relic of St. Agnes, a tiny particle of the body of this young woman who died for her faith at Rome in the year 304 and with the restoration of the St. Agnes altar, this relic has been placed under the altar stone.
The veneration of relics is a human reflex and an ancient Christian practice. A wholesome understanding of relics calls for an expansive view of the Body of Christ, in whom everything holds together (Colossians 1:17). When we gather in church, we encounter Christ’s Body in several distinctive ways. The assembled congregation is the Body of Christ. If the Eucharist is celebrated, Christ becomes present in the consecrated Bread and Wine. If the Eucharist is reserved in a tabernacle or aumbry, Christ is present in those Elements.
The church may be surrounded by a cemetery or include a columbarium. The mortal remains of departed Christians belong to Christ’s Body in yet another respect. In a manner beyond our ability to imagine; they await their resurrection.
A church may also contain relics of saints who are honored with feast days and other marks of public devotion. These exemplary believers are certainly one with Christ and with all members of Christ’s Body. Fragments of their human remains or articles of clothing, can remind us that as Christ’s holiness permeated their lives, including their bodies, so we are invited into a holiness that is no less comprehensive.
Hope must be dared.
Hope only happens when we cannot see its object. “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Romans 8:24) We dare to hopefor the unseen; we refuse to believe that the world around us, with all its suffering, is all there is.
Job was a man who dared to hope. The story recounted in the Book of Job tells us that he was a wealthy and righteous man who lost all his belongings, his family, and his health, in a test of faith designed by the Accuser and allowed by God. In the midst of all his suffering, he says these words:
“For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;
and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”
Today may we dare to hope in God our Redeemer, regardless of what happens around us.
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
In his book, Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America, Chris Hedges—journalist and son of a Presbyterian minister—recalls an experience he had in his twenties while staying in a United Nations camp for Guatemalan refugees in Honduras. These refugees had fled fighting in their homeland. Most of them had seen family members killed.
On the dreary January afternoon when Hedges arrived, the refugees were decorating tents and wooden warehouses with colored paper. These displaced peasants were celebrating the flight of the Holy Family to escape Herod’s order for children to be killed. That flight took Joseph, Mary, and Jesus from Judea to Egypt.
Hedges asked one of the peasants why this was an important day. “It was on this day that Christ became a refugee,” he replied.
Hedges knew the Bible passage by heart. He remembered hearing his father read it every year. “But until that moment, standing in a muddy refugee camp with a man who may not have been able to read, I did not understand it. This passage meant one thing to me and another to parents who had swept children into their arms and fled to escape death.”
What can we learn from marginalized people about the real meaning of the Bible?
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today is the Epiphany, which the Book of Common Prayer (page 15) identifies as one of the seven principal feasts of our Church.
“Epiphany” comes from a Greek word meaning manifestation, and Jesus Christ is the one manifest. At his Nativity (December 25), Jesus is manifested to the Jewish people, represented by those in the Bethlehem stable, including the shepherds directed there by an angel who appears to them in the night sky (Luke 2:8-16).
At the Epiphany (January 6), Jesus is manifested to Gentiles, represented by magi, proto-scientists perhaps, who are led westward by an extraordinary star and bring him strange gifts: gold, frankincense, and myrrh
Matthew’s Gospel mentions three gifts, but does not say how many gift-givers there were. Some old Christian traditions identify more than three magi, complete with their names. Everybody in the New Testament world was either a Jew or a Gentile.
Christmas and Epiphany thus testify that Jesus was manifest for everybody. To emphasize this point, Christian art sometimes presents the magi as people of diverse ethnicities.
Meditating on the Epiphany can strengthen our commitment to being anti-racist people.
Rev. Mary McCue
Sprinkled through our liturgical calendar are days called feria. Today, for example
is Christmas Feria.
Mysterious as that sounds, it simply means weekdays. Though simple liturgies
may be celebrated during the week, a saint’s feast, if it falls on that day, takes
There are four classes of ferias. First class is Ash Wednesday, and all the days
of Holy Week. Second class is in Advent, December 17 to 23 rd . Third class is
during Lent, from the Thursday after Ash Wednesday to the Saturday before
(Ferias are not to be confused with Ember Days, which occur quarterly.
Ember Days are times for special prayer and for fasting. Ember Days are
the third and fourth Sundays of Advent, the first and second Sundays of
Lent, Pentecost and Trinity Sundays.)
Since we celebrated Epiphany yesterday, when we were together in church,
we did not hear the Collect for the Second Sunday of Christmas.
In honor of today’s Christmas Feria, here it is.
Oh God, who didst wonderfully create and yet more wonderfully
restore the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share
the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our
humanity, thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth
with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.
Best wishes to all for the New Year.
Today is the feast of the Holy Name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, on which we celebrate the circumcision and naming of Jesus at the temple on the eighth day after his birth.
Before Jesus was born, an angel announced to his earthly father Joseph what his name would be. ‘Jesus’ is a Greek variant of the Hebrew name Yeshua or Joshua, which means ‘God saves.’ The angel tells Joseph, “He will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Today we thank God for saving us from our personal sins through Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. We also hope for Jesus’ return when he will establish his kingdom of righteousness and end the systemic sin that plagues our world.
Thus, our collect for today is both a prayer of thanks for what has been done and a prayer of hope for what will be done, by the power of Jesus’ name.
who didst give to thine incarnate Son
the holy name of Jesus to be the sign of our salvation:
Plant in every heart, we beseech thee,
the love of him who is the Savior of the world,
even our Lord Jesus Christ;
who liveth and reigneth
with thee and the Holy Ghost,
one God, in glory everlasting.
Rev. Charles Hoffacker
Today is among the Twelve Days of Christmas, a period in our society that invites us to swim upstream. During this countercultural time we can engage in the countercultural practice of pondering.
The mother of Jesus is someone who ponders. She does so in response to the arrival of the Bethlehem shepherds. They report how that they learned of the child through an appearance of angels. What they say subsequently spreads to unidentified others. “But,” Luke’s Gospel tells us, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
Something similar happens many years later. Jesus, now twelve years old, becomes separated from his parents in Jerusalem; they find him conversing with teachers in the temple; he returns home with them and is obedient to them. This episode ends in a similar way. “His mother treasured all these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:51)
Mary did not let these challenging episodes pass on unexamined. Here—and probably on other occasions also—she pondered, assessing what had happened around her. We also need to assess our lives.
Dare to hope. And dare to ponder.
Rev. Mary McCue
Today, we remember the Holy Innocents. Described in Matthew’s Gospel,
(Matthew 2: 16-18), it is the horrific story of Herod sending his troops to
massacre all boys aged 2 and under. Herod was infuriated by
by the Wise Men, who tricked him by leaving for their own country
without telling him where the child who would be King was.
The story may be a legend, as some later scholars have claimed.
They cite as evidence the fact that the incident appears only in
Matthew’s Gospel, though it seems to be foretold in Jeremiah:
“Rachel wept for her children and would not be consoled.”
Legend or not, it is one of the images from Scripture that has
inspired artists of all types. The Bruegels (father and son), Remi,
Rubens, Giovanni and Tintoretto all produced images of the massacre,
as did other less-well-known artists.
And it inspired one of the most beloved carols for this time of year.
In the 16 th century, The Pageant of the Shearmen and Tailors, based on
the incident, was sponsored by the Shearmen and Tailors Guild.
It included the Coventry Carol. (In England, crafts guilds vied with each
other to stage plays based on Scripture: the Nativity, Crucifixion, Corpus
Christi, Resurrection. It was an early form of Christian education
in rural and semi-rural England.)
Rev. Mary McCue
St. Thomas, whose feast day is today, is probably most widely remembered for
being the Doubting Thomas portrayed in John’s Gospel. But Thomas was also a
missionary, and figures large in some theological legends.
One legend is that he wrote his own account of the life and times of Jesus. The Gospel
of Thomas and the Acts of Judas Thomas both circulated in those days. Neither one
was deemed sufficient to be included in the Holy Scriptures. Both make
interesting reading, though, adding insights into Thomas’ time with Jesus and into the
time of Jesus.
Another is that before the Apostles left the Holy Land to become missionaries of
the Gospel in other lands, each contributed one line to the Apostles’ Creed,
which we pray today as part of our Morning Prayer service. Thomas is supposed to
have contributed the line “On the third day he rose again.”
What is true about Thomas is that he became a highly successful missionary.
Sent to Parthia, now called India, he founded seven churches there and was esteemed
by Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches. Even today, there are St.
Thomas Christians in India, and a special cross commemorates him.
Thomas was martyred in India. His remains were interred in Chennai, India.
Later, some remains were moved to Ortona, Italy. Churches in both those locations
Rev. Mary McCue
Today, we celebrate thefeast of John of the Cross, a Spanish priest and Carmelite monk. Born Juan de Yepes y Alvarez in 1542, his parents lost their wealth while he was young. He attended a then-new Jesuit school and was ordained a priest in 1567. Thereafter, he was mentored by Teresa of Avila, who asked him to help reform the Carmelite order, conforming it to the“Primitive Rule” of devotion to the Liturgy of Hours, study, solitude and fasting. Which he did.
His efforts were controversial, and he was imprisoned by fellow monks. Despite torture and bad conditions, his creativity flowered. He began writing on his insights into Christ and the virtuous life – insights which would eventually become classic works in mysticism. It was during this time, that he wrote his Spiritual Canticle.
Eventually, John escaped from prison and formed a new monastery devoted to the Primitive Rule. There, he had a vision of Christ “from above” – a drawing that provided inspiration for Salvador Dali’s, Christ of John of the Cross. Inaddition to his Spiritual Canticle, his other writings include "Dark Night of theSoul" and "Ascent of Mount Carmel". All are based in scripture, and reveal his deeply spiritual attachment to Christ. He is often hailed as a poet for thequality and beauty of his writing. His work influenced later writers such as T.S. Eliot, Therese of Lisieux, Edith Stein and Thomas Merton.
Let us give thanks for the life and example of John of the Cross.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington