Today is the feast of the monk and priest St. Jerome (circa 347-420). After living throughout the Mediterranean world, he spent his final years in Bethlehem. Jerome is best remembered for the Vulgate, his translation of the Bible into Latin. The Latin biblical texts sung in the liturgy at Ascension and St. Agnes generally come from this translation.
Jerome claims that ignorance of the scriptures is ignorance of Christ. He is not asking us to become biblical scholars as he was. Instead, he is setting forth as a principle what Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) recognizes in a prayer. Cranmer’s prayer remains in our liturgy. In it we ask God to grant that we may so hear the holy Scriptures, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, “that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life” that God has given us in Christ.
Ignorance of the scripture is ignorance of Christ. We can keep overcoming this ignorance through a lifelong process of engagement with scripture. As we do so in diverse ways, the hope of everlasting life becomes in us an ever-deeper reality.
Today we commemorate Our Lady of Walsingham, which marks one of the earliest apparitions of the Blessed Mary.
The apparitions appeared to Richeldis de Faverches, an English noblewoman in 1061. She believed the Blessed Mother transported her soul to the Holy Land, and showed her the home of the Holy Family. And she felt called to establish a shrine to the Holy Family in England.
She did, by building the Holy House, which became a shrine. In time, it became as popular a spot for pilgrims as Glastonbury and Canterbury, who couldn’t travel to Rome or Compostela because of civil unrest. The shrine became known as England’s Nazareth. In the 1300’s, a devout abbot built a shrine called the Slipper House, where pilgrims could leave their shoes to walk the last mile to the shrine barefoot.
Despite the fact that Henry VIII was one of eight monarchs who worshiped at the shrine, it did not escape his Reformation (in which he seized all religious property in England after he declared himself the sole authority in England). The shrine was destroyed in 1538.
But faith couldn’t be destroyed or suppressed forever. Pilgrimages began again in 1897, and the chapel was restored that year.
Today, there are shrines to Our Lady in Sheboygan, Wisconsin; Williamsburg, Virginia; Houston, Texas and other locations around the U.S. (including an altar to Our Lady of Walsingham at St. Paul’s K Street). Prayers at the shrine are offered for the Church, the world, the sick, all in need and the departed. At the website for the Anglican Shrine of our Lady in Walsingham – www.walsinghamanglican.org – prayer requests may be submitted on-line.
Several years ago, I concluded that my spiritual life felt narrow and stuck. While I was heeding the Holy Scriptures, I did not pay sufficient attention to God’s older book, namely Creation. One way in which I set out to resolve this problem involved the Hubble Space Telescope.
I acquired a thick book of breathtaking photographs of deep space. Most days I devoted time to reflecting on one of these Hubble photos, gradually making my way through the collection. This was a leisurely activity and a transformative one. Repeatedly I remembered that I was gazing at an unimaginatively vast expanse of creation far more unknown to humanity than known. These photographs also involved looking back in time, since the light from astronomically distant objects travels for a very long time to reach earth, even though nothing travels faster than light. Repeatedly I pictured myself as moving through these immensities on a planet rotating around a particular star in one tiny section of creation.
The Hubble Space Telescope helped my spiritual life by reminding me, through gorgeous photos, of the splendid infinities that surround us.
Today’s Kalendar commemorates St. Matthew, who was a tax collector. It seems that taxes and their collection have never been popular. This was especially the case in Galilee. When Jesus called Matthew from his customs table in the village of Capernaum, He was doing something very unpatriotic. The tax collectors were agents of Roman colonial rule and so they were seen as traitors and cheats. Jesus then did something just as offensive—he accepted Matthew’s invitation to dinner. According to the customary rules of pollution avoidance, Jesus should not even be talking to Matthew, much less reclining with him and his friends in a celebratory meal, all dipping their fingers into a shared platter of stew, tearing pieces of pita bread from a common loaf.
What was going on? Jesus had reached out to Matthew in generous love and acceptance, crossing conventional boundaries of respectability, and Matthew responded with love and generosity in return. He became a disciple and invited his friends to meet Jesus. The people Matthew knew were also tax collectors and so Jesus was dining with a whole group of sinners.
That’s it. That’s how it works, even now.
Jesus reaches out to us in love that crosses all possible boundaries and limits, and we are given the opportunity to respond to His generous acceptance with love and acceptance of our own, inviting those we know to join us in sharing a meal with Him—a foretaste of the great Messianic banquet in heaven. It doesn’t matter to Jesus that we too are sinners, as were Matthew and those he knew to invite for a meal. Jesus dines in love and celebration with us today just as He did so joyfully with Matthew and his friends long ago.
Today the Church celebrates the Feast Day of Hildegard of Bingen, a multi-talented individual who left behind a legacy of writings, song and study of nature.
Hildegard was born around 1098. When she was about 3 years old, she began having visions. Most often, those visions were of light – the light of Christ. As she put it in her later years, “From my early childhood, before my bones, nerves and veins were fully strengthened, I have always seen this vision in my soul … The light which I see thus is not spatial, but it is far, far brighter than a cloud which carries the sun. I can measure neither height, nor length, nor breadth in it; and I call it ‘the reflection of the living Light.’ And as the sun, the moon, and the stars appear in water, so writings, sermons, virtues, and certain human actions take form for me and gleam.”
Moved to a convent at age 15 or so, she embarked on mysticism and study. Her studies included theology, music and nature. Her life’s work ultimately resulted in three major publications, incorporating her theological visions of “the voice of the living light.” Her surviving music, mainly monophonic (one melodic line) chants, totaled more than any other Middle Ages musician – 69. And her works on nature, including properties of 213 healing herbs, survived, sparking the creation in modern times of Hildegard Networks, dedicated to holistic, natural healing.
In later life, she founded two abbeys, at Rupertsburg and Eibingen. She insisted on an all-female abbey to her Abbot. When he denied her, she went over his head – and eventually got her way.
Hildegard died in 1179. Today, we can give thanks for her theology, her music and her commitment to healing through natural remedies.
Today is an Ember Day. This takes some explaining.
Ember Days are three days which occur four times a year. They are the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after St. Lucy’s Day (December 13), Ash Wednesday, the Day of Pentecost, and Holy Cross Day (September 14). Their name comes from a Latin phrase meaning “four times.” These times (originally three) were associated with sowing, harvesting, and vintage, when people prayed, fasted, and gave alms. The four times became occasions for the ordination of deacons and priests. They remain so today, although ordinations take place on other occasions as well.
Whether at Ember Day services or not, please intercede for those seeking ordination and those helping them discern their vocation as well as for all the Church’s ministers: lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons.
Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of your faithful people
is governed and sanctified:
Receive our supplications and prayers,
which we offer before you
for all members of your holy Church,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may truly and devoutly serve you;
through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
Today’s Kalendar recognizes this as Holy Cross Day, also called more broadly within Christianity “The Exaltation of the Holy Cross.”
This feast commemorates the 4th C. discovery in Jerusalem of what was then believed to be the Cross of Jesus, during excavation beneath a Roman temple that had been built on the hill of Golgotha in the years after the Roman army had destroyed the old city of Jerusalem. Ever since its finding this wood has been preserved and venerated as the True Cross, with small pieces of it distributed around the world. We have a fragment of it here in our parish, used in adoration of the Cross on Good Friday.
Historically the Cross was an instrument of cruel execution by torture. Yet it has been redefined in Christian understanding. It is carried in procession as a sign of triumph—God’s power to bring life out of death. Venantius Fortunatus, the last of the classic Latin Christian poets and 6th C. Bishop of Poitiers, speaks of it this way in the hymn we sing in each Holy Week, Pange Lingua Gloriosi: “Faithful Cross above all other . . . sweetest wood and sweetest iron, sweetest weight is hung on thee.” The following stanza goes so far as to portray the Cross in tender images of maternal care:
Bend thy boughs O Tree of Glory!
thy relaxing sinews bend;
For a time the ancient rigor
that thy birth bestowed, suspend;
And the King of Heavenly Beauty
on thy bosom gently tend!
(V. Fortunatus. English translation, J. M. Neale)
For us the Cross is no longer a symbol of degradation and death but of God’s capacity in bringing forth love and life from within the midst of the most terrible circumstances that humans can face. The Cross is a sign of hope for us now in our present troubles, as it has been for our forebears in all the generations preceding us in the Church.
Let us never forget the victims of what can be considered the single deadliest terrorist attack in human history.
Four hijacked airliners, 19 years ago on this day, crashed into the Twin Towers in New York City, the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, resulting in the death of 2,996 persons and the injury of over 25,000 persons.
In remembering them, we condemn acts of terror. We affirm our humanity, which no evil will take from us. We also cherish the memories of those torn away from us in the midst of life.
And, we express our trust in a God of mercy, in Whose hands our world, despite appearances, is held and Who, through the chaos and destruction that we cause, is calling us Home.
Today we remember Alexander Crummell, priest, academic and nationalist turned abolitionist who left a lasting mark on churches in Washington, D.C.
Born in March 1819, he grew up in Upstate New York, where he felt the call to be a priest. Turned down for admittance to General Theological Seminary, he sought theological training elsewhere, and was ordained a priest in Massachusetts in 1842.
At first, he pursued nationalism – encouraging Blacks to return to Liberia to form a homeland. After 20 years of living in Liberia, he returned to the United States and focused on the fight to abolish slavery. His writings and preaching were a great influence on Marcus Garvey, Paul Laurence Dunbar and W.E. DuBois.
In 1872, he was called to Washington, D.C. to minister to St. Mary’s Mission in Foggy Bottom. He became known as a Missionary at Large to Black Episcopalians. Within a year, his congregation, and three Sunday schools, grew, and the idea of an independent Black church grew along with it. Funds were raised to create St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, the first independent Black Episcopalian church. Created in 1875, it moved to the building it still occupies, on 15th St. NW, in 1876. The building was designated a historic landmark in 1976. Both St. Marys Foggy Bottom and St. Luke’s are active churches today.
Father Crummell served as St. Luke’s rector until his retirement in 1894. He died on September 10, 1898. One of the readings for his Feast Day is James 1: 2-5: “My brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance, and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” Good words for us to live with and by in this day and age.
A helpful custom is to have a prayer corner in your living room, bedroom, or elsewhere in your home. If you do not have one already, consider setting apart such a place in a visible way.
The focal point of the prayer corner is one or more sacred images. These can include an icon, a picture, a crucifix, or a cross. They may be original works or reproductions. Often an oil lamp or candle burns in a safe location nearby. A small plant or floral arrangement recalls God’s glorious creation. Furniture near the prayer corner should allow for comfortable kneeling, sitting, or standing as you find appropriate.
A generous space should be available for books such as the Bible, Book of Common Prayer, Hymnal, and other devotional resources.
If you burn incense during your prayer time, provide safe space for a thurible, charcoal, matches, and the incense itself.
If live or recorded music is part of your personal prayer practice, include whatever instruments, recordings, or scores you need.
Your prayer corner will be a standing invitation to draw near to the Holy One who always welcomes us.
The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is a retired priest of the Diocese of Washington