Lent is right around the corner! Indeed, Ash Wednesday is February 14-wink, wink: St. Valentine's Day (perhaps a playful reminder that the Lenten journey is meant to grow us in in love). As I look ahead to Lent, I cannot but think that a fitting theme for our Lenten journey ought to center on mercy, on mercy received and mercy given. Mercy is overflowing love in the midst of human brokenness. Each of us has been given great mercy (I know that I have!). If we are to be truly the children of God that we are by such mercy, then we must show mercy to one another, we must love another generously and tenderly where we are frail.
Saint Clare (+1253), who met St. Francis, at the age of eighteen, when he came to preach a Lenten mission in her parish, reminds us of our calling to mercy, to compassionate love.
We become what we love and whom we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God's compassionate love for others.
Yours in our Lord,
pastor and brother
This Sunday we celebrate, in a special way, Saint Agnes (of Rome), our patroness, intercessor, co-sojourner, and divine friend. Since the primitive church, her feast is assigned to 21 January.
Agnes was born in Rome and raised in a Christian family. She died a virgin-martyr at the age of 12 or 13 on 21 January 304. She was buried in a Roman catacomb, over which, during the reign of Constantine (306-337), a basilica, Sant'Angese fuori le mura, was erected. The basilica was later remodeled by Pope Honorius (+638), and has since remained unaltered. In the apse is a mosaic showing Agnes amid flames, with a sword at her feet.
Many have sung her praises and extolled her virginity and heroism under torture. The three oldest written testimonies to her martyrdom are those of St. Ambrose (+397), Bishop of Milan, Pope Damasus (+384), and Aurelius Prudentius (413), Roman Christian poet. Prudentius adheres to St. Ambrose' account of death by the sword, but expands the story: the judge threatened to give over her virginity to a house of prostitution for refusing a fixed marriage. For her refusal of such aggression to her innocence, she was killed. In the end, she remained a virgin and obtained the crown of martyrdom. How the gift of faith can make us strong and faith-full and victorious. Indeed, by it, one can move mountains...
St. Agnes, the patron saint of young girls and rape survivors, is depicted in the mural above our main altar. She is the second figure from the left, and below her are symbolic representations of her innocence and martyrdom: a lamb ("agnus" in Latin) and a palm branch.
St. Agnes, pray for us.
Yours on the journey with her,
The Lord came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!”
And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” (this Sunday’s first reading: 1 Samuel 3:1-10)
Samuel was still a boy when this occurred. But, he was being well taught. His mother, Hannah, who had struggled to conceive a child, had entrusted Samuel to Eli, the priest. She had prayed to conceive, was blessed by Eli at the time and vowed that, if her prayer were granted, she would consecrate her child. Indeed, as we read in I Samuel 1:25-28,
They brought the child to Eli. And she said, “Oh, my lord! As you live, my lord, I am the woman who was standing here in your presence, praying to the Lord. For this child I prayed; and the Lord has granted me the petition that I made to him. Therefore I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he lives, he is given to the Lord.” She left him there for the Lord...
Mother Teresa says that “listening is the beginning of prayer”. Samuel was learning to pray. Interestingly, the first word of prologue to the Rule of Saint Benedict—whereby the monks live their life of consecration of God—is “Listen!” And, Saint John Vianney (+1859), patron of parish priests, who, during the last ten years of his life, spent 16 to 18 hours a day in the confessional in his village church in Ars, France, says,
When it's God Who is speaking . . . the proper way to behave is to imitate someone who has an irresistible curiosity and who listens at keyholes. You must listen to everything God says at the keyhole of your heart.
Are we listening? Do we try? Do we set aside quiet time to be with God, as an expression of desire and good-will, even if we know that we will be assaulted by distraction? Do we tell God, in the midst of the noise in our heads, that we want to hear His voice, that we want to hear the silence of His love? Such expressions can only lead to greater intimacy, for the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.
Yours in Christ,
As many of you know, "epiphany" means manifestation. We celebrate God incarnate, the Word made flesh, made manifest to the Gentiles (i.e. to the rest of the world, beyond the Jewish community), in the persons of the mysterious Magi (wise men). The Magi come reading a star, indicating the birth of a king. Beyond their astrology, however, we can perhaps say that they come because they have been given a gift from Christ, before even seeing him: faith. They are given faith, not because of privilege, but because they are seekers. God likes seekers. God extends Himself to those who seek.
Faith enables us to discern mystery from above. With the eyes of the body, they see a fragile infant. With the eyes of faith, they see God. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between child and God. It is very much like our situation regarding the Eucharist, or Communion. Only faith can bridge the apparent abyss between bread and God. Thanks to faith, to the Magi Christ is made known. Thanks to faith, to us-as with the disciples on the road to Emmaus who initially do not recognize the risen Lord, Christ is "made known...in the breaking of the bread" (Luke 24:35).
If this is true, then we ought, as the prophet Isaiah tells us (first reading: Isaiah 60:1-6), to "Arise, shine; for our light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon us." Let us arise. We are friends of "Christ Jesus our Lord, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him" (second reading: Ephesians 3:1-12).
Yours in Christ,
seeker with you
From the desk of the Rector