I mean, really. It can be such a hassle. Getting out of bed the only day we have for deserved extra sleep before resuming the rat race of the week. And, for some, the drive. Oh, the drive! Even if less crazy than during the week, it is still a drive. And, for some, kids. Oh, the kids! Not always cooperative. The deck seems stacked against going to church. And, can’t I just pray at home and essentially be fine?
Well, in this Sunday’s gospel (John 6:51-58), Jesus’ words are powerful and give us a powerful reason to go to church:
“Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood,
you have no life in you.”
In our church, we believe in the Eucharist, Communion. We believe that Jesus, the Bread of Life, gives Himself in a very particular, perhaps even in an “unsettling” way. Jesus gives a simple bread that communicates to us His flesh and thus His Self. (This, of course, requires a huge leap of faith!) This gift we cannot give to ourselves at home.
“No life in you” seems a little strong, however!! Where does this leave me if I don’t go to church? Where does this leave Christians who don’t believe in this gift? Well, “the Lord is gracious and merciful” (Psalm 145:8). This gift is not the only way in which God loves us. But, it is a special way, and perhaps we can say that we are missing something in our relationship with Jesus without this intimate gift. Jesus speaks strongly when He is sharing His heart. Jesus is adamant because He is the Bread of Life, and He wants us to have life, to come to life, to taste everlasting life.
So, why go to Church? For incredible, incredibly uplifting music, a (hopefully!) decent sermon, the faces of sisters and brothers in Christ, but, above all, this gift, which gives meaning to all the rest. We go to church to be loved and, in that love, to go forth to love, “to do all such good works as God has prepared for us to walk in” (Eucharistic Prayer, Rite I)
In Christ’s love,
Member of the Body of Christ
This is what the “one seated on the throne says” (Revelation 21:5). The newness promised by the King is, of course, primarily that of our hearts. But, there can be other forms of newness, which complement and serve as metaphors for what God is doing in us and in our midst. Our church aisles are adorned with beautiful, hand laid, marble mosaic. Over the years, the layers of wax covering the tiles have formed a dark brown haze, concealing the intricate detail and craftsmanship of the mosaic. Well, the one seated on the throne in our parish office, our administrator, Mark Cosenza, is making all things (aisle) new. In addition to his administrative tasks, he has been painstakingly removing the layers of wax and uncovering the beauty that lay hidden.
This is not unlike the work of the Holy Spirit in us, by Whom we “put on the new self” (Ephesians 4:24). And, how fitting this is, as we are more deliberately praying for the renewal of our parish: may the beauty hidden be revealed, and may we grow spiritually and in number. Below you will find a prayer that has been composed with this intention in mind. Details about how, as a parish, we will pray this over the coming year, are forthcoming from the Vestry sub-committee on Evangelization. In the meantime, let us pray:
We, your disciples and friends,
ask for the grace to grow in faith, hope and love
and to grow in membership in our part of the Body of Christ,
Church of the Ascension and Saint Agnes.
Help us always to heed the words of the Letter to the Hebrews(13:2):
to “let mutual love continue”
and “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers”,
believing that, “by doing so,
some have entertained angels without knowing it”.
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”(Matthew 28:19)
In this Sunday’s gospel (John 6:1-21), after the miracle of the multiplication of the loaves, Jesus quickly and quietly withdraws to the mountain. Such withdrawal could seem a little unusual. Why not stay and fellowship with the crowd? Why does Jesus leave? Is it that He was exhausted? Or, perhaps, He does not do crowds after all? Or, maybe, He hates to be touched?
I would venture to say that Jesus withdraws for at least three other reasons:
The crowd’s motives were not pure. The attempt to enthrone Jesus was about them, not really Him. Saint Thomas Aquinas notes (in his commentary on this passage) that “People often want as their ruler someone who will provide them with temporal things.” Jesus wants us to approach Him out of love, not just so to get things. Jesus is not the big PEZ candy dispenser in the sky. No one makes Jesus king. He is already king, the divine king. He is king because He is God. There is no possessing Jesus. There is only surrendering to Him, and letting Him freely fill us.
In all of this, there is an invitation for us to examine our hearts regarding Jesus, regarding God:
Grateful with you,
“Quo Vadis?”, Latin for “Where are you going?” A question of direction and destiny. Where are we going? What is our end and purpose?
I would venture to say that, humanly speaking, we have one primary end: close, loving relationships with significant others. Of course, very important and often satisfying in our lives are our activities of creativity and productivity as well as our communal involvement. But, as Aristotle said back in 350 BC, and as human experience still seems to confirm, “Without friends, no one would want to live, even if he had all other goods.” (Nichomachean Ethics, chapter 7).
As Christians, we have another destiny, in addition to this. We are called to relationship with the Significant Other, through Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit. All humanity is called to this, but we who call ourselves Christians have the privilege of more deliberately and consciously entering into it. It is indeed a privilege, not a right. It does not make us humanly better than other people; it makes of us servants who know that they are loved.
In the Letter to the Ephesians, dated approximately 62 AD, St. Paul articulates our divine destiny is as Christians. It is unbelievable—or, better, believable, thanks to the gift of faith! Below are excerpts from this Sunday’s incredibly rich second reading, the opening to the Letter to the Ephesians (1:3-14), a flood of luminous insight:
God…has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places…to be holy and blameless before him in love.
He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In him we have…the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.
He has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure.
In Christ we have obtained an inheritance…so that we…might live for the praise of his glory.
In him you also…were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people.
Let us happily embrace our divine destiny, thanking God for His mercy.
Yours in mercy,
July 15, 2018
At a time when there is much conversation about national sovereignty and borders and legal vs. illegal immigration, it is interesting that we have a Scripture passage (Ephesians 2:19-22) in which St. Paul speaks ofcitizenship: “you are citizens with the saints”. It is a metaphor, of course (which, obviously, entails a passing acknowledgement of the fact that there are nations comprised of citizens).
St. Paul makes use of this along with another metaphor, that of household: “you are members of the household of God”, to speak of belonging. Add to these, the metaphor of temple: “a holy temple in the Lord”, and we begin to understand how unified we as Church are to be and how much all of this is the gratuitous work of God in us. There is no test for this belonging. There is only the gift of God and our choice to receive and cooperate with it.
Beyond the reality of nations, beyond all human relationships and endeavors, we have been lovingly incorporated into something much bigger than us, that will last forever, in which God delights to dwell. Perhaps, it is best simply to let this passage speak:
You are citizens with the saints
and also members of the household of God,
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets,
with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.
In him the whole structure is joined together
and grows into a holy temple in the Lord;
in whom you also are built together spiritually
into a dwelling place for God.
Together with you as holy temple,
fellow pupil of Jesus
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,
From the desk of the Rector