Wait a minute: did not the General Convention of the Episcopal Church in 1801 declare rather strongly that "the Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory...is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God"?!? Indeed.And, over time, the Church, whom we believe to be led somehow by the Holy Spirit, deepens Her understanding of our life with God.We do believe that insights emerge in Tradition.
The 1979 Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer asks the question "Why do we pray for the dead?" The answer? "Because we still hold them in our love, and because we trust that in God's presence those who have chosen to serve him will grow in his love, untilthey see him as he is". Prayer for the dead presupposes the possibility of growth in love, after death, until God is fully seen as He is.Such growth is Purgatory. And this growth is indeed encouraged by the prayer of other members of the Body of Christ.
This Sunday's gospel (Luke 16:19-31) presents us with a parable about a rich man who enjoyed the fineries of life to the point of grave insensitivity to a poor man, Lazarus, who lay at his gate in want. As a result, he finds himself in Hades, the abode of the dead. From there, interestingly, he expresses care and concern for his family. His expressions are expressions of love-which Hell precludes. Moreover, the chasm is fixed but not declared definitive.
For those who are so inclined, it is helpful to look to Tradition to understand Purgatory. Amongst others, Saints Cyril of Jerusalem (+386), Gregory of Nyssa (+386) and Augustine (+430) speak of prayers for the dead (a waste of time should there be no growth in love after death). St. Catherine of Genoa (+1510) later wrote a full treatise on Purgatory in which she says surprising things.
The rich man in the parable cries, "I am in agony in these flames".The flames, however, are those of a cleansing fire not of active divine punishment. Far from being a mini-Hell, the torment is linked to love. As St. Catherine says, the soul "sees by the divine light that God does not cease from drawing it...lovingly and with much care and unfailing foresight, to its full perfection, doing this of His pure love". And, in the light of this, regarding these souls whose transformation in love is incomplete, she goes on to say, "The love of the souls, finding itself hindered, causes them pain". It is the pain of realizing that there is still distance from the Beloved and of longing for perfect union. Indeed, St. Catherine declares that this pain is experienced in the midst of happiness and, quite amazingly, that "no happiness can be found worthy to be compared with that of a soul in Purgatory except that of the saints in Paradise; and day by day this happiness grows as God flows into these souls more and more as the hindrance is consumed".
I rest my case.
Yours in the love that purifies our hearts,
How intriguing the Jesus invite us to be clever with and for Him-even if, seemingly, dangerously so: "make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth". It sounds as though Jesus is inviting us to develop ties with some of the shadier characters of the financial industry! Not really.
There are parts of the Church that tend to downplay the role of the mind in the faith experience. The deeper Tradition of the Church, however, understands the mind to be very much an integral part of the spiritual life. It is the mind at the service of love, no doubt, but it is integral. There is a rich cooperation between the mind and God. How can there not be? "God is light" (I John 1:5).
Jesus is not advocating that we become financial sharks. He makes this clear in the closing of his discourse, in the application of the parable: "you cannot serve God and wealth". Jesus is aware of how readily and easily we become shrewd and clever for money. We are similarly to become shrewd and clever for God. We are to be intelligent for God. When it comes to the faith experience, we do this, by awakening our mind to the world around us and, in faith, to God's presence in our midst, in the light of which can discern all things for their true value.
Your fellow seeker of divine light,
This Sunday is Holy Cross Day (moved from its September 14 date so that we can celebrate together). In some circles, we specify the “exaltation of the Holy Cross”. Exalting the Holy Cross is, really, exalting Jesus who pours forth Himself in love on the Cross. The Cross—despite its exteriorly tragic aspect—is a mystery of eternal love. This is why Jesus can say, “when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people to myself”. To speak of drawing or attraction is to speak of love. St. Leo the Great (pope from 440-461) says that “the Cross is the source of all blessings, the cause of all graces. Through the Cross, we receive strength from weakness, glory from dishonor, life from death.”
This Sunday, we gather, in a special way, around the Crucified and Glorified One, our Friend and Savior, Jesus. Like those who gazed upon the serpent of bronze fashioned by Moses in the desert and were healed (Numbers 21), we gaze upon, stand in awe of, and adore our Lord. In so doing, we allow Him to take hold of and heal us.
"Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple… None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.” (this Sunday’s gospel—Luke 14:25-33)
Another sweet invitation from Jesus, the Prince of Peace. Another irresistible invitation to Christian discipleship. A little strong, perhaps, but why not engage in “hyperbolic expression so as to underscore the great cost of discipleship”? This is a frequent interpretation of this passage. “God never promised us a rose garden.” Well, yes, but…
The truth is that Jesus invites (in)to the mystery of His life, which is beyond any cost calculation, which is beyond comprehension. And, He invites us as we are: with our bruised hearts and tired bodies and fragile relationships and limited hopes. The invitation, although it may seem so, is not about heroism. It is about surrender, in which we recognize our inability to respond well. St. Dominic Savio (+1857) says: “I am not capable of doing big things, but I want to do everything, even the smallest things, for the greater glory of God”. Saint Dominic Savio is the youngest non-martyr to be recognized officially as a saint in the Roman part of the Church, a holy companion for whomever may wish. Known for his intense devotion and faithful prayer, he died at age of 14 from Pleurisy, in Mondonio, Italy.
Jesus does indeed extend a strong invitation to follow Him, strong because divine love is absolute. When St. Paul exhorts us in Ephesians 5 to “be followers of God, as dear children”, he tells us to “walk in love”. In the end, once again (thank God!), it is about love. It is about surrendering to “a God who simply loves and can do nothing else, a God who never stops seeking us” (Brother Roger Schutte of Taizé)
Yours in Christ,
From the desk of the Rector