We continue Epiphanytide, the season of manifestations of Jesus. In this Sunday’s gospel (Luke 4:21-30), we find Jesus manifest Himself “in the synagogue at Nazareth”, His traditional spiritual home, where He is surely a known entity. Luke then tells us that “Jesus read from the book of the prophet Isaiah, and began to say, ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.’” Initially, “all spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth”. But then the familiarity begins to influence their thinking (“Is not this Joseph's son?”) and obscure the manifestation of Jesus. Jesus thus challenges them to go beyond their thinking, to discover something new, someOne new. He pointedly and movingly says, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet's hometown”. The challenge, however, proves to be too much: “when they heard this, all in the synagogue were filled with rage. They rose, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they might hurl him off the cliff.” Hospitality no more! Because Jesus calls the shots, however, “he passed through the midst of them and went on his way”.
This gospel surely implies an invitation to us to welcome Jesus beyond any familiarity, to allow our-selves to be drawn more deeply into the mystery of God, beyond all imagery, beyond all need. When we do this (by simply expressing a desire for this, which then allows God truly to draw us), we “obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21). We are set free to love as St. Paul describes in our second reading from his first letter to the Church in Corinth (read, by the way, by British Prime Minister Tony Blair at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales in 1997): “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrong-doing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Divine love is our calling. Bear in mind, however, that this divine love is a gift, which transcends the natural capacity of the human heart, enabling us to love as Jesus wants us to love, and thus fulfill an otherwise impossible commandment: “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27). To love does not mean to like, and to love does not mean to tolerate injustice. But it does mean love…
Jesus’ surprising, unsettling, and liberating invitation extends to each and every one of us, “who are loved by God and called to be his holy people” (Romans 1:7). My continued prayer for us is that, more and more, we respond with great desire, so that our hearts expand, and we grow in love for one another, which will only make our community irresistible to us and to all those searching for a spiritual home.
Gratefully yours in Christ,
We decided that the “show” must go on. Unless really impeded, there was no reason not to try to celebrate Mass. The Eucharist is a source of blessing for the entire parish whether we be three or three hundred. Today’s second reading captures this, in a sense, when St. Paul says, “if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it”. Twenty-one of us were honored today—on behalf of all, and so all rejoice. How generous and kind is our Lord.
Know that you are in my prayer as we all emerge from Mother Nature’s strong gift to us. Enjoy the down time. Make it quality time. And, do not forget to spend some quiet time with Christ. He awaits us patiently in the silence. You can read the notes from today's sermon: food for thought that may facilitate the quiet time.
Enjoy also the photographs of the church adorned with snow. Let it be a metaphor for how lovingly we are adorned with blessings, blessings which, however, transform us from within.
Christ’s peace and light,
This Sunday we consider Jesus in the beginning of his ministry according to Luke (4:14-21). Jesus ministers “filled with the power of the Spirit”. But, as St. Cyril of Alexandria states, “Jesus performed miracles not from any external power, and from having, as it were, the acquired grace of the Holy Spirit, as other saints; but rather, as being by nature the Son of God, and partaking of all things which are the Father’s, He exercises as by His own power and operation that grace which is of the Holy Spirit.” “But”, continues St. Cyril, “it was right that from that time He should become known, and that the mystery of His humanity should shine forth among those who were of the seed of Israel.”
Our lives are really about celebrating and engaging and falling ever more deeply in love with this mysterious God-(hu)man, Jesus, Who, in humbling himself, communicates to us the fullness of God. In reading this Sunday’s gospel, St. Ambrose comments: “The Lord in every thing so humbled Himself to obedience, that He did not despise even the office of a reader. As it follows, Jesus rose to read, and there was delivered to him the book. He received the book indeed, that He might show Himself to be the same who spoke in the Prophets, and that He might illumine those who say that there is one God of the Old Testament, another of the New; or who say that Christ had His beginning from a virgin. For how did He begin from a virgin, who spoke before that virgin was?” How privileged we are to be called to relationship with Jesus, and given the Holy Spirit so to be able to respond “with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our strength, and with all our mind”. (Luke 10:27)
My prayer for you, as we approach the blessed season of Lent, is an intensifying thirst for divine intimacy, for this privileged relationship with Christ, a relationship which spills over into the relationships between us, making us His Body. Let us bear in mind, in all situations, our calling, knowing that Jesus Himself takes the initiative and that Jesus makes it possible. Let us bear in mind that we are His Body, Sisters and Brothers, not because of affinity, but because of His loving doing.
Yours in Him,
Dearest Parishioners and Friends,
We celebrate more solemnly Saint Agnes, our patron, a young girl martyred in 304 at the age of thirteen for resisting sexual assault. You will actually notice two statues of her in our church, on the east side, one by the side altar, and one mid-nave. She is also represented in the mural above the altar (second from the left). Her attributes are a lamb and a martyr’s palm branch.
Her example of steadfastness is an inspiration to us. She is also present to us, a strong sister on our journey, who intercedes for us. What blessing to have such friends along the way. When a parish is named for a saint, I dare believe that the saint watches over the parish in a special way. How can he or she not? Is this not how the Body of Christ functions? We respond to one another’s appeals in love. Let us express to the Lord our gratitude for Saint Agnes.
This seems to be a time of particular blessing, if I may dare say. We had the visit(ation) last Sunday of our Bishop, Mariann. Her simplicity and her gentle, luminous presence were and remain a gift to us. Thank you for being so welcoming of her. In her communication to me post-visit, she expressed how deeply touched she was.
On Saturday, January 9, we had the first of three meetings: “Moving Forward: Parish Visioning and Planning”. After Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and Morning Prayer, we brainstormed for a couple of hours, possible things to do regarding “inreach”. Our next session will be regarding “outreach”, and our last session will be regarding “facilities and finances”. As previously announced, as we progress, we will open the conversation to the entire parish, during a coffee hour. We will then prayerfully wade through our long list of possible things, sorting short-term from long-term, discerning the resources needed for each, prioritizing, and finally choosing. I believe the Lord is calling us to express His love to one another and to the surrounding community in new ways.
One upcoming “to-do” is an exciting event in the making, to take place on Saturday, May 7: “Blessing of Bicycles”! To my knowledge, this has never been done in Washington, D.C. When I shared this idea with Bishop Mariann, she immediately exclaimed, “Count me in! I will be there!” The committee (of 7) for this is looking for a few other members. If you are interested in serving in this way, please let me know.
We are blessed to be co-sojourners in Christ. Let us continue to pray that, by grace, we grow in love for our Lord and for one another. I close with encouraging insights from the medieval Italian Dominican mystic, St. Catherine if Siena, “Everything comes from love; all is ordained for our salvation. God does nothing without this goal in mind”.
Yours gratefully in Christ,
Dearest Parishioners and Friends,
This Sunday, we have the special blessing of a “visitation” from our Bishop, Mariann Budde. According to canon law, every diocesan bishop is to visit every congregation in his or her diocese at least once every three years. “The canonical purposes of a visitation are for the bishop to examine the condition of the congregation, oversee the clergy, preach, confirm, preside at the Eucharist, and examine parochial records.” This is an encounter, in Christ’s love, between shepherd and flock. We are blessed to have a good shepherd after the heart of the Good Shepherd, Jesus (John 10:11). Please make it a point to be present, to show our love, and to be nurtured. And, bring a friend, so that we be numerous in so doing!
This Sunday we celebrate the feast of the Baptism of our Lord. Jesus did not need to be baptized. He was baptized for us. Jesus makes use of John’s Baptism to institute the Baptism which confers grace. As St. Gregory Nazianzus (+390) says, “By going to John to be baptized by him, He sanctified baptism.” St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) echoes these thoughts some nine centuries later, when he says “Jesus wished to be baptized with a baptism which He clearly needed not, that those who needed it might approach unto it.”
The Baptism of Jesus is another manifestation of Jesus, following that of the Epiphany: “The heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Luke 3:22) Jesus is manifested as “the Beloved”, in whom each of us is “the beloved.” God gives us everything, so that we participate in the divine life, in the Trinitarian life revealed here. Indeed, “the Son of God became man so that we might become God”. (St. Athanasius +373)
It is fitting that Bishop Mariann’s visit be on this feast. She comes to manifest Jesus to us. Let us rejoice.
Yours faithfully in Christ,
The Second Sunday after Christmas, day nine of the twelve days of Christmas! We continue the celebration. I realize that all around us, for many, Christmas is over. Liturgically, Christmas is, of course, not over until the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6. Spiritually, Christmas is never over. The One Whom we celebrate is an inexhaustible mystery of love and light. We will celebrate Jesus forever, with the great multitude,
like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunder-peals, crying out, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. (Revelation 19:6-8)
Most of you have noticed that the days gradually, subtly grow longer. This is good news for those who struggle with seasonal affective disorder or who, quite simply are very sensitive to light. That Christmas be celebrated as the days grow longer is not a coincidence. The Church makes symbolic use of the cosmos to help us to approach the One Whom we celebrate. As St. Gregory of Nyssa (+394) tells us,
Today the darkness begins to grow shorter and the light to lengthen, as the hours of night become fewer.... Realize that the true light is now here and, through the rays of the gospel, is illumining the whole earth.
The English monk, St. Bede the Venerable (+735) celebrates Christ in saying that
“He is the Morning Star, who, when the night of this world is past, gives to his saints the promise of the light of life, and opens everlasting day.”
We continue the celebration. Indeed, as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta (+1997) so lovingly and wisely exhorts us: “It is Christmas every time you let God love others through you.”
Yours in the Word made flesh,
From the desk of the Rector