It continues to be strange and uncomfortable that the doors to our church are closed. We still cannot gather in person as sisters and brothers in Christ; to celebrate the holy mysteries. We still do not know exactly when we will re-open, alas. We are, however, moving towards that day!
Our plans for reopening have been submitted to the Bishop. We are acquiring all the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) supplies, and are collecting your responses to our re-gathering survey, which will very much help parish leadership to discern a date. Once our plans have been approved, parish leadership will prayerfully determine when we can finally throw wide open our doors and rejoice to be together. We are hopeful to be able to gather, in a limited capacity, in mid to late August, although there is no certainty.
When the date is established, we will send the approved plan and guidelines, which describe what our re-gathering will look like. This plan includes "A Covenant for Re-Gathering in Worship." Bishop Mariann asks us to make a promise to abide by the guidelines, as our concrete way of fulfilling our Baptismal Covenant to “love my neighbor as myself”, “respect the dignity of every human being” and to “seek and serve Christ in all people.”
In the meantime, we continue this unusual journey, knowing that we are bound to one another in and by the Holy Spirit. The more we pray, the closer we are.
Let us pray! And, let us respond to the faithful presence of Christ by loving those right around us. Easier said than done! But, as Jesus said to Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9), so Jesus says to us, “my grace is sufficient for you: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Yours in Christ,
We can easily fear silence, for silence can have the appearance of emptiness. Who is comfortable with a void? Who likes free-falling? Such discomfort and fear incline us then to fill the void.
In comes social media. Nothing seems to be happening, and so we immediately turn to our smart phone, and scroll and tap mindlessly at break-neck speeds—or is that text-neck speeds? “Text neck” is defined as neck pain caused by the flexed/forward head posture during texting (or reading) on a smart phone. Such posture compresses the anterior cervical spinal joints, effectively loading the anterior discs. Ouch—pain traceable for some to a fear of silence.
If only we remembered more often that God inhabits the silence. Recall Elijah meeting God at Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:11-13). God was not found in the great wind or the earthquake or the fire, but, “after the fire” in “a sound of sheer silence.” Many of the saints, the close “mystical” friends of Christ, speak of the indispensability of silence.
Mother Teresa (+1997) tells us: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence... We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
The Spanish mystic, Saint John of the Cross (+1591), says that “What we need most in order to make progress is to be silent before this great God with our appetite and with our tongue, for the language he best hears is silent love.”
The young Polish nun, Saint Maria Faustyna Kowalska (+1938), exhorts us: “In order to hear the voice of God, one has to have silence in one's soul and to keep silence; not a gloomy silence but an interior silence; that is to say, recollection in God.”
In the midst of so much unrest, both inner and outer, let us not forget (also) to be silent. In fact, seize the many opportunities of apparent emptiness in your day, to frequent God and, by grace, be a mystical friend of Christ. From such sacred silence, you will “be able to touch souls.”
Yours in the silence,
The Rev. Dominique Peridans
follower of Jesus Christ
In difficult times, be they societal or more personal, it is particularly important to know who we are, who we are in Christ. Even as Christ’s disciples and friends, we so often look to the outside, to the world and persons around us, to know who are—and for validation. Yet, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). We know this in faith.
We also know, alas, that faith, because so subtle and deep and because freely exercised, is easily overshadowed. The voice of God that we hear (with our hearts!) in faith can be easily drowned by other voices. And so, we ask the question afresh: who am I in Christ?
Who we most truly are in Christ cannot be seen in the mirror, cannot be measured, cannot even be easily described. All that I am has lovingly been taken hold of by Christ—my capacity to love, my hair texture, the contours of my body, my past, my relationships, my brain—and yet, the child of God in me, at his/her core, is a mystery (which is a good thing!) Our life is “hidden with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3). We are uniquely loved and held and safe and, over time, with our cooperation, we are transformed, divinized. We are becoming like God.
Saint John tells us in his first epistle (3:2), “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he (Jesus) appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” One day the transformation will be complete.
In the meantime, on this pilgrimage towards our heavenly home, we trust that we have been “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before God in love.” (Ephesians 1:4) Chosen and thus sent forth, we must witness to all those around us, along the way, in these complex times, to the goodness and brilliance of God. Indeed, Saint Paul urges you and me (Ephesians 4:1-3) “to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which we have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
This is my prayer with you.
“What day is it?” asked Pooh.
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favourite day,” said Pooh.
If only this were true of each day, for each of us. Alas! We lose ourselves in imaginary returns to the distancing past or in imaginary projections into the unknown future and, in the process, deprive ourselves of today, of what could be our favourite day.
Projections into the unknown future are all the more tempting nowadays, as so many important things in our lives have been postponed: weddings, soccer matches, conferences, concerts and church. More than ever, we are positioned to look forward.
Among the things postponed are our Annual Meeting (to September, 13) and our Parish Picnic (to September 20). If ever we cannot meet for the Annual Meeting, we will arrange for a virtual option. And, the Picnic, well, we will see.
We do look forward to gathering, to seeing one another, to praying and singing, to celebrating Eucharist, to letting Jesus, the Bread of Life, do His wondrous thing in our midst. Yet, as we look forward, let us, as Maya Angelou, the American poet, says,
“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.”
When Jesus saw his mother
and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her,
he said to his mother, “Woman, behold your son.”
Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother.”
Standing, in the midst of suffering, requires strength. Mary and John stand at the foot of the Cross with the strength that comes from faith. Although their hearts are broken because their beloved is dying, they know, in faith, that Jesus is victorious in love. Jesus is communicating divine love in these last moments of His life. This is why and how Jesus gives them to one another. He is not simply seeking to ensure that they take care of one another, so that He can have peace of mind. It is so much deeper than this. Jesus is establishing a new, deeper spiritual kinship. Otherwise, it would make no sense for Him to say to His mother,“Woman” or “behold your son”. And, it would make no sense for Him to say to John, “Behold, your mother”. We are witnessing the overflow of divine love.
I invite you to approach our tabernacle at the main altar in the sanctuary. This tabernacle used to sit empty in our Lady Chapel. It now sits prominently at our main altar. Our Parish Administrator has lovingly cleaned and polished it. It has probably not been this radiant since it was crafted many years ago. (Thank you, Mark!) Details have come to life: swirling clouds and Holy Land–scape, and above all, Mary and John, co-suffering with Jesus, standing by faith.
The refreshment of this tabernacle door is a metaphor for the cleaning and polishing of our hearts currently underway by the Holy Spirit. We are entering a new chapter in the life of our parish. Our prayer for renewal and growth is an expression of our desire to hasten what God is doing in and through us. Our purpose is to grow in faith, hope and love, that is, to enter more deeply into the life shared by Mary and John—who journey with us. And, our purpose is to grow in number as a parish, sharing the gifts bestowed upon us. It is in sharing the gifts that we receive that they bear fruit.
Lead us into our neighborhoods to be agents of holy transformation,
and, with apostolic zeal, to bring back new parishioners
with whom we may worship you as an awesome God.
Give us hearts wide open to welcome them
and all those who come through our doors.
And, by the power of your Spirit, may we, together,
“go and make disciples of all nations.”
Thomas Merton (d. 1968), the well-known Trappist monk, in his 1948 autobiography, Seven-Story Mountain, speaks of being “salt of the earth”. In this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 9:38-50), Jesus tells us: “have salt in yourselves”. Thomas, of course, speaks of religious life, which is about belonging to God in a unique and special way, thanks to the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience. The spirit of religious life, however, ought to permeate the journey of each of us and of us all as Body of Christ, the Church. We are called wholeheartedly to belong to God. And, in that belonging, to impart the flavor of God to one another and, as the same passage says, to “be at peace with one another”.
I will let Thomas speak:
I had to be led by a way that I could not understand, and I had to follow a path that was beyond my own choosing. God did not want anything of my natural fancies and selections until they had been more completely divorced from their old track, their old habits, and directed to Himself, by His own working…My selfishness was asserting itself, and claiming this whole vocation for itself, by investing the future with all kinds of natural pleasures and satisfactions which would fortify and defend my ego against the troubles and worries of life in the world.
Besides, I was depending almost entirely on my own powers and on my own virtues — as if I had any! — to become a good religious, and to live up to my obligations in the monastery. God does not want that. He does not ask us to leave the world as a favor to Himself.
God calls us — not only religious, but all Christians — to be the “salt of the earth.” But the savor of the salt, says St. Augustine, is a supernatural life, and we lose our savor if, ceasing to rely on God alone, we are guided, in our actions, by the mere desire of temporal goods or the fear of their loss: “Be ye not solicitous, therefore, saying what shall we eat, or what shall we drink or wherewith shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the heathens seek. For your Father knoweth that you have need of all these things.” “And he said to all: If any man will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; for he that shall lose his life, for my sake, shall save it.”
In this Sunday’s second reading (chapter three of the letter from Saint James), a great question is posed, one that we might be tempted to pose in the public square:
Who is wise and understanding among you?
Oh, how we need wisdom in our lives, in our homes, in our workplaces, in the public square.
Saint James speaks of wisdom from above, the unique understanding that comes from the Holy Spirit, joining our hearts and minds. Saint James gives us a few hints as to what characterizes such wisdom: “wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy”.
I want such wisdom! It is indeed a gift. If so, it must be sought and received. Who is wise and understanding? The one who asks.
One prayer seeking wisdom is the well-known serenity prayer, attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr (d. 1971), a United Church of Christ minister, professor, author, and 1964 recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom:
give me grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
Taking, as Jesus did,
This sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it,
Trusting that You will make all things right,
If I surrender to Your will,
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with You forever in the next.
Seeking wisdom with you,
Saint James asks, “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” (2:5). Some would call this revolutionary. Some would simply call this the mystery of divine love. God, who is love, sees what the naked eye does not: our inner beauty.
The words of Saint James remind me of the three years I spent in the L’Arche community (I was in a community in Brussels, Belgium. There are four communities in the greater Washington, DC area, for which our Parish Administrator, Mark Cosenza, was formerly Director or Operations and Finance). “The aim of L’Arche is to create communities, which welcome people who have intellectual disabilities. By this means, L’Arche seeks to respond to the distress of those who are too often rejected, and to give them a valid place in society.” (Charter of the Communities of L’Arche). At L’Arche, the “poor in the world” are recognized as “rich in faith”. And, those who choose to live with them are enriched in faith. The founder of L’Arche, Jean Vanier, in his book, “Becoming Human” says the following:
The belief in the inner beauty of each and every human being is at the heart of L’Arche…and at the heart of being human… We do not discover who we are, we do not reach true humanness, in a solitary state; we discover it through mutual dependency, in weakness, in learning through belonging.
We must ask God to see with “divine eyes”, eyes of faith, to see as God does.
Here is a morning prayer (attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi) asking this:
Lord, in the silence of this morning,
I ask You for peace, wisdom and strength.
I wish to see the world today only with eyes full of love,
to be patient, gentle and wise
to see Your beloved children as do You, beyond appearances,
and thus only see the good in them.
Close my eyes to all malice and keep my tongue from all malevolence.
May only thoughts that bless be in my mind,
that I be so kind and joyous that all those who approach me sense Your presence.
Clothe me with Your beauty, Lord, and may I reveal You all the day long.
You may have noticed that we have statues: Christ the King and Mary, as well as Saint Agnes, our Patroness and Saint Vincent the Deacon (both of whom died in 304) (It is unclear how Saint Vincent made his way here, but we welcome him nonetheless!) In front of all of them, we have votive candles. Why votive candles? Indeed, why statues? What is their meaning? Are they a helpful tradition? Are we, rather, engaging in a superstitious practice?
Let us consider what preceded and prepared our practice. In Judaism, a perpetual light was kept burning in the Temple (and in the synagogues) primarily to show the presence of God (cf. Exodus 27: 20-21 and Leviticus 24: 2-4). Later the Talmud prescribed a lit lamp at the Ark, where the Torah and other sacred writings were kept, to show reverence—a practice that probably influenced ours of having a lit candle to indicate the presence of Christ in Communion reserved in the Tabernacle.
There is evidence that lit candles (or oil lamps) were burned at the tombs of saints, particularly martyrs, by the 200s, and before sacred images and relics by the 300s. St. Jerome (d. 420), in his Contra Vigilantium, attested to this practice. And, the practice continued to develop.
Although a natural symbol, light has a special significance for us: Christ, “the true light” (John 1:9). Some Medieval spiritual writers expanded the imagery of the candle itself: beeswax symbolized the purity of Christ; the wick, the human soul of Christ; and the light, His divinity. Recall Jesus said, “I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness; no, he shall possess the light of life” (John 8:12) and “I have come to the world as its light, to keep anyone who believes in me from remaining in the dark” (John 12:46).
Here, as in the early Church, as a gesture of honor, we light a candle before a statue of our Lord or of a saint. i.e., those whom our Lord has fully “conformed into his image” (cf. Romans 8:29). Of course, we do not honor the statue (or any image). We are not engaging in superstitious practice. It all depends on intention. These are but stepping stones in prayer. We make use of a visual representation and reminder to turn to Him Whom we worship without seeing. As far as Mary and the saints are concerned, we do not worship them; we venerate them because of what Jesus has done in them and because we believe them to be present by virtue of Jesus.
The light signifies that prayer is a “coming into” the light of Christ. And what is wonderful about a candle is that it continues to burn when we are gone, expressing our desire to remain present to the Lord in prayer even though we may depart and go about our daily business.
You are welcome to light a votive candle...
Yours in the light of Christ,,
(Thanks to a July 1994 issue of “The Arlington Catholic Herald” for inspiration for this reflection.)
From the desk of the Rector