St. Paul makes what appears to be a terribly nonsensical statement: “whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:10). This defies human logic. I know that, as far as my experience goes, whenever I am weak, then I am, well, weak. When I feel helpless to assist a friend who is grieving the loss of a parent, I am weak. When I have been battling insomnia, I am weak. When I lack the magnanimity of heart to reach out to a family member in need because I have yet to forgive them a past hurt, I am weak. And, weakness is trying and discouraging.
How can St. Paul speak of strength in weakness? Is he a stubbornly naïve optimist? No. He speaks of a power not his own. He speaks of the power of Christ. He tells of Jesus’ response to his request to be relieved of particular, particularly humiliating weakness (what exactly it is we do not know).
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.”
St. Paul discovered that Christ comes mysteriously to meet us in our weakness. How wonderful! I am not alone in my weakness. What freedom. What strength. My weakness need not have the last word. Indeed, St. Paul goes on to say, “So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me”.
Let us dare hope-fully to welcome Christ in our weakness and know the freedom of the children of God.
Yours in Him,
There is much to discover about and experience of the power of faith. Hence, a string of gospels these Sundays to assist us. Last week, Jesus awoke to silence both a storm on the lake and the disciples’ fear, asking them “Have you still no faith?” This week, in the fifth chapter of Mark’s gospel, we find a woman with a hemorrhage who has been afflicted for twelve years, and who dares, in faith, to come to Jesus for relief; for healing. As we read, she approaches Jesus from behind, in the crowd, unannounced. She touches Him and is healed without a word exchanged. It is almost as though Jesus leaks power. There is so much power to share. Once they finally do exchange a word, Jesus says to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.”
What is the power of faith? What is this powerful faith? Do you sense that faith is powerful? Do you almost levitate when you recite the Creed? Just kidding—about the levitation, not the power of faith!
For faith to be powerful, it must be more than simply a belief system. For faith to be powerful, it must be more than positive thinking, more than vague trust that life will get better. Such thinking has benefits, but faith is more.
For faith to be powerful, it must be directed to and connect us to God, Who is all-powerful. Faith does this and, by it, we participate in God’s power. Now, note that participation in God’s power does not mean taking ownership of it, and using it for our own purposes. Such participation is in the context of a love relationship, wherein we seek to be led by God, according to God’s wisdom.
God is love.
God is powerful.
God makes us of His power at the service of His love.
By faith, we are powerful to love.
In faith with you,
Fellow-pilgrim of faith
This Sunday’s second reading (2 Corinthians 6:1-13) is a rich exhortation to seize the incredible opportunity of grace. God blesses us. God “graces” us. God invites us into relationship, and eternal life begins already deep in our souls. And, there is no time to waste. “Now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!”(verse 2). How can we waste time when we, with the same St. Paul (Philippians 3:8), “regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord”?
Now, St. Augustine tells us that "God created us without us; but he will not save us without us”. We will not fully enter into this relationship with God without wanting it, and without loving one anther. We must respond to the divine initiative by opening our hearts—to God in desire and to one another, God’s children.
St. Paul is acutely aware of these demands of divine love and spends himself in response:
As servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights…
St. Paul is able to do this because he knows that, in Christ, he is safe and he has all that he needs—and then some! Indeed, the distance between what others think of him (and his band of disciples) and what he knows to be true is striking:
We are treated as dying, and see, we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.
“Do we daily seek “not to accept the grace of God in vain” (verse 1) by expressing great desire and, inseparably, by reaching out to those around us? St. Paul movingly beseeches, “I speak as to children—open wide your hearts” (verse 12).
With you, trusting in the grace to love,
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 4:26-34), Jesus compares the kingdom of God to a mustard seed, the smallest of all seeds that “becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade”. This rich metaphor helps us to understand that the kingdom of God is not as we may sometimes think: simply a place or a way of life. I often say this—perhaps, with annoying repetition. But, it is true! The kingdom of God is the King reigning, Jesus loving, and inviting and welcoming us (in)to everlasting life.
In speaking of this great shrub that is the kingdom of God, St. Jerome (+420) says that “the boughs which it puts forth are those of mercy and compassion.” The gracious welcome by Jesus, the King, to everlasting life is wide and large. There is room for all of us birds, birds of every species, to rest safely, to build a nest, on the boughs of mercy and compassion.
If Christ’s welcome of us is wide and large, how ought we to welcome one another? “Love one another as I love you” (John 13:34) can be translated “Welcome one another as I welcome you. We sometimes lose sight of the fact that the quality of our hospitality with respect to one another directly impacts the quality of our relationship with Christ. Those around us in the pews are not pious décor. They are sisters and brothers who, by virtue of such a bond, have a “right” to my heart. Let us bear this in mind. Indeed, may the Holy Spirit continue to teach us how to open our hearts. And, may this openness of heart be manifest: greeting the new person at church, volunteering for a church event, visiting someone in need, smiling at the cashier at the grocery store, spending quality time with a loved one, or myriad other ways. Let us rest assured as we seek to grow in divine love that, as Jesus promises (John 14:26), “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything”.
Yours in the same Spirit,
In this Sunday’s gospel (Mark 3:20-35), Jesus encounters scribes come from Jerusalem who make the surprising accusation that he is demonically possessed. Who would have thought? Apparently, they did! In response, Jesus cleverly underscores the incoherence of such an accusation: he cannot expel demons by the power of Beelzebul, the prince of demons. And, he famously says,
"If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.
And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand."
Oh, how Jesus desires unity, how Jesus desires our unity as a parish community. He beseeches it of the Father thrice in his intimate priestly prayer in John 17 (verses 11, 21 and 23). Unity follows love. Our unity thus depends upon the work of the Holy Spirit in us and upon our response in faith, hope and love to such work. We respond in seeking to love another. Indeed, St. John tells us that“no one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” (I John 4:12).
As we seek to love one another and to live in unity, we can get wounded along the way—by one another, by others in the complex world in which we live. Our response to the work of the Holy Spirit in us thus necessarily includes a willingness to forgive. Let us hear and heed the words of St. Paul in this regard
"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgives you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."
(Colossians 3: 13-14)
Yours in Christ,
Trinity Sunday. The Trinity. Three Persons.
Actually: mysteriously intimate.
Elizabeth Catez was born in France in 1880, and grew up in Dijon. She entered the Carmelite monastery in Dijon in 1901. Her fascination with the Trinity led her to take the name Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity. She died in 1906 in her convent—at the age of 26—from Addison's disease. She composed a beautiful prayer to the Most Holy Trinity, an intimate prayer full of humility and hope and awe and, above all, love, a prayer that helps us to discover that, although apparently abstract, our calling to relationship with God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit—is actually mysteriously intimate. I share her prayer with you for this “Trinity Sunday”.
O my God, Trinity whom I adore, help me to become utterly forgetful of myself so that I may establish myself in you, as changeless and calm as though my soul were already in eternity. Let nothing disturb my peace nor draw me forth from you, O my unchanging God, but at every moment may I penetrate more deeply into the depths of your mystery. Give peace to my soul; make it your heaven, your cherished dwelling-place and the place of your repose. Let me never leave you there alone, but keep me there, wholly attentive, wholly alert in my faith, wholly adoring and fully given up to your creative action.
O my beloved Christ, crucified for love, I long to be the bride of your heart. I long to cover you with glory, to love you even unto death! Yet I sense my powerlessness and beg you to clothe me with yourself. Identify my soul with all the movements of your soul, submerge me, overwhelm me, substitute yourself for me, so that my life may become a reflection of your life. Come into me as Adorer, as Redeemer and as Saviour.
O Eternal Word, utterance of my God, I want to spend my life listening to you, to become totally teachable so that I might learn all from you. Through all darkness, all emptiness, all powerlessness, I want to keep my eyes fixed on you and to remain under your great light. O my Beloved Star, so fascinate me that I may never be able to leave your radiance.
O Consuming Fire, Spirit of Love, overshadow me so that the Word may be, as it were incarnate again in my soul. May I be for him a new humanity in which he can renew all his mystery.
And you, O Father, stoop towards your poor little creature. Cover her with your shadow, see in her only your beloved son in who you are well pleased.
O my `Three', my All, my Beatitude, infinite Solitude, Immensity in which I lose myself, I surrender myself to you as your prey. Immerse yourself in me so that I may be immersed in you until I go to contemplate in your light the abyss of your splendour!
Yours in the Trinitarian life,
co-sojourner in faith
Allow me to appeal to my Belgian heritage…. Joseph Mercier was a professor of philosophy at the University of Louvain and Archbishop of Brussels from 1906 to 1926, the year of his death. Mercier is noted for his staunch resistance to the German occupation of Belgium from 1914–1918, during the Great War. So noted was he that he was invited to visit the United States by President Woodrow Wilson in 1919.
Mercier is also noted for his deep spirituality, which radiated in his interaction with people. On this feast of Pentecost, when we celebrate the Holy Spirit, the Promise of the Father, the Consuming Fire, the Comforter, allow me to share with you a secret from Fr. Mercier. He won’t mind!
I am going to reveal to you the secret of sanctity and happiness. Every day for five minutes control your imagination and close your eyes to the things of sense and your ears to all the noises of the world in order to enter into yourself. Then, in the sanctity of your baptized soul (which is the Temple of the Holy Spirit), speak to that Divine Spirit, saying to Him:
Oh, Holy Spirit, beloved of my soul, I adore you. Enlighten me, guide me, strengthen me, console me. Tell me what I should do; give me your orders. I promise to surrender to all that you desire of me and to accept all that you permit to happen to me. Let me only know your will.
If you do this, your life will flow along happily, serenely, and full of consolation, even in the midst of trials. Grace will be proportioned to the trial, giving you the strength to carry it, and you will arrive at the gate of Paradise, laden with merit. This submission to the Holy Spirit is the secret of sanctity and happiness.
Yours in the Holy Spirit,
All women raising children in one way or another, all women spiritually guiding others on the “path of life” (Psalm 16:11), mothers of all types, we salute you! We give thanks for the gift of yourselves, for opening the treasures of your hearts. This Mothers Day, we carry you in a special way in our prayer. In fact, our prayer is that of St. Paul in this Sunday’s second reading (Ephesians 1:15-23). What more could we want for mothers?
I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
Now, this sounds fine and dandy. But, what if I have not had a good experience of mothering—on the receiving or the giving end? And so, what if I am not “feelin’ it”? Well, there is still an opportunity to celebrate—in hopeful fashion. Mothers Day need not simply be a walk down happy memory lane or a celebration of happy mothering. Mothers Day can be lived in great hope with respect to all mothers. “Hope for what?” you may ask. We can prayerfully seek refuge in God in Whom there is always a bond with mothers. When we pray for someone, we love them. When we pray for mothers with whom we have difficulty, we love them. If so, our hearts connect with them, in silence, and healing can take place. Happiness follows love. If prayer is an act of love, prayer leads to happiness.
How helpful to know and how fitting to declare on our parochial “Titular Feast”, our “name day”: Feast of the Ascension for Church of the Ascension (and St. Agnes!). Dare we believe that Jesus shares with us the endless blessings of His Ascension? It is divine love that attracts Jesus’ body into heaven. It is this divine love that Jesus’ shares with us—and, in particular, with mothers.
And, let us not forget Mary, help of mothers, our spiritual mother, guiding us on the “path of life”.
Happy Mothers Day!
Blessed Feast of the Ascension!
Yours in our Ascended Lord,
Some of you may have noticed the different sayings or phrases on our mobile sidewalk sign. They are typically one of three types: informational, inspirational or playful.
NOW OPEN BETWEEN EASTER AND CHRISTMAS
THAT GOD BE QUIET DOES NOT MEAN THAT GOD IS BLIND
IF GOD HAD A FRIDGE, YOUR PHOTO WOULD BE ON IT
WHERE DO BROKEN HEARTS GO? WE HAVE A GOOD IDEA…
BE THE KIND OF PERSON YOUR PET THINKS YOU ARE.
WE USE DUCT TAPE TO FIX EVERYTHING.
GOD USED THREE NAILS.
WHAT DOES GOD WANT FOR CHRISTMAS? YOU.
And, the list goes on. In addition to being a sort of conversation with the neighbourhood, these signs are intended to be signs (pun intended) that there is life here at Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes.
In John 10:10, Jesus says, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” If this is Jesus’ purpose for us, then, necessarily, our calling, as His disciples and friends, as a parish, is aliveness. As a parish, we are called to be vibrant—from the Latin vibrare, “to move to and fro”. In a vibrant parish, there is movement: in particular, movement towards new persons looking for a spiritual home, and movement outward beyond the church walls.
My question: how are we responding to this calling? Fullness of life overflows, is “contagious”. Are we sharing the divine life that we have been graciously given? Or, are we, in some way, content with being in a comfortable niche? Will you join us in extending this abundant life to all whom the Spirit brings across our path? Spirit of the Living God, fall afresh on us…
The more we encounter our Risen Lord, the more our hearts are transformed. A transformed heart is a heart that loves more and more generously. St. John, the “disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 13:23; 12:26), the only apostle who stood faithfully at the foot of the Cross, the first apostle to reach to the tomb, knew the Risen Lord. He thus knew that, to be a faithful disciple and friend of Jesus who participates in the mystery of Jesus’ Resurrection, is to love more and more generously. And, such knowledge moves him to exhort us:
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. (this Sunday’s second reading, 1 John 3:16-24).
In the light of this, St. Gregory the Great (+604), Pope and patron saint of musicians and singers, tells us
The proof of love is in the works. Where love exists, it works great things. But when it ceases to act, it ceases to exist.
St. Augustine (+430) asks “What does love look like?” In responding, he points us in the right direction:
It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of humanity. That is what love looks like.
It is only by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts that we can love this generously. It is only God’s love that can move us to hear and do what Mother Teresa encourages us to do:
Spread love everywhere you go: first of all in your own house. Give love to your children, to your wife or husband, to a next door neighbor... Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile, kindness in your warm greeting.
Beseeching the Holy Spirit with you,
From the desk of the Rector