The Breath of Mercy

A touching article about the attraction and power of vulnerability reblogged from First Things .  PN

FIRST THINGS 

THE BREATH OF MERCY

by Maria del Fiat Miola2 . 23 . 16


A mother shouldn’t have favorites, but I have often observed that she inclines more to the child who is sick or more vulnerable than the rest. The more fragile the child, the fiercer the love of the mother. The strong and healthy ones outgrow her solicitous nurturing, and she can do no more for them but accept their independence and love them cautiously, as if from afar. But the child who is paralyzed or autistic continues to need her care, and her aged maternal hands bestow upon him the same thousand attentions they did when they were young and supple.

So it was with Wassim; he was the one who most required and awakened the maternity of the sisters and all who cared for him. Wassim was twelve years old when I met him in the hot summer of 2014, during the uncertain days of war between Gaza and Israel. He was living in our home for children in Bethlehem, the appropriately named Hogar Niño Dios. His mother entrusted him to the sisters’ care when he was six, and though his doctors said he would die within the year, he had lived six years more. He used to sit in his custom-made wheelchair, as delicate and helpless as a tiny baby bird, all bone, completely immobile except for parts of his face. By day the sisters fed him and wheeled him around, by night they sang him to sleep in a crib with special padding. His head was normal size for his age, but it looked inordinately big compared to the rest of his gaunt body and contracted limbs. His eyes were the most prominent and expressive part of him, large and deep brown, so translucent that in my memory they seem to me the clearest blue.

My first full day at the Home was chaotic; some sisters were absent due to a retreat and other activities, and I had to jump in with little preparation. I had come to help the sisters with this work of mercy for a month, in the summer between finishing the Master’s program in Greek and Latin at Catholic University and starting the doctorate. I had been excited but a little uneasy before coming to the Home, since my main apostolate in my fifteen years of religious life had been studying and teaching, not changing diapers and handling the sick. Though I was confident when it came to the Greek of the Iliad and comfortable amidst critical editions of Augustine, here among these little ones I felt inexperienced and awkward. How could I really help, how would I know what to do?

There was no time for theoretical approaches as a sister wheeled Wassim to me and asked me to bathe him. I looked at him doubtfully, and asked her “How?” She flashed an impish smile, and responded, “Just normal.” I thought to myself that there was nothing normal about Wassim or the circumstance, but as I turned to voice this to the sister, she was gone and only Wassim was left blinking at me. I inhaled, rolled up the crisp sleeves of my habit, turned on the water in the soft special bathtub, and looked back at the child. He had not turned his gaze, and was simply waiting for me to begin. So after carefully removing his clothing as from a porcelain doll, I picked him up and placed him in two inches of warm water. The sight of him so exposed and helpless trapped my breath in my chest. I could count every one of his bones. I slowly began to rub his thin limbs with a mild soap, cautious of his sore spots and continually watching his face to make sure I was not hurting him. He moved his eyes back and forth upon my face with something like trust, and as the clean water rinsed and flowed over his little body I breathed out the tension. “Just normal,” I thought.

I liked to watch the spontaneous and universal effect Wassim had on other volunteers who came to the Home. Visitors immediately noticed him, since he was the most gravely ill and debilitated. The Arab children would vie to push his wheelchair, the jaded Italian reporter would kneel down to get at his eye level and speak softly to him, the elderly pilgrim would even dare to caress the top of his head ever so lightly. The very fragility of this child of God demanded, or rather, inspired, humanity to realize its own humanity. One sister told me proudly that Wassim was the best apostle in the Home, and that he was working many cases of conversion.

One morning near the end of my stay, I was doing laundry and cleaning in another part of the building. During my work, I rushed by the enclosed patio, the favorite spot of the children, glimpsed Wassim through the door, and stopped to say hello. His eyes looked duller and more vacant, there were slight creases on his brow and chin. The deep brown did not focus on me but flitted beyond my reach. Mother noticed this too, said that there was something wrong, and called the doctor. “Well, he looks fine to me, and his vitals are completely regular, but if you want you are welcome to take him to the hospital. I know you sisters can sense things that we can’t. It could be something related to his brain.” I carried Wassim into the van and held him in my lap with pounding heart as Mother drove to the children’s hospital established by other sisters on the opposite side of Bethlehem.

As we passed the Basilica of the Nativity, I looked down at my own quiet child of Bethlehem. The head that lay on my left arm was the heaviest part of him, like a newborn babe, so I awkwardly curled my right hand around to give it extra support. As his frail body rested against my chest, I watched it delicately rise and fall to the rhythm of my breathing. His complete dependence awed me. What if I put him in a wrong position or dropped him? His limbs could snap in an instant. I twisted myself further to give him a kiss on his brow, furrowed with signs of pain. When we arrived, I gingerly carried our child into the waiting room, amidst stares of sympathy and pity from the other parents. The mystery of such extreme fragility touched everyone. How could such a creature exist in such a world of bombs and tanks? Why did God entrust this child to us, to live among us and depend upon us? As I held him, his very life was in my breath.

I left the Home soon after and went back to the U.S. and to my stacks of books and student life. Within a week of my return, the news reached me that Wassim had left us. I was happy for him that he had gone from this valley of tears to the abode of angels, yet I felt an indefinable loss. With his look, he smote my heart. What other brown eyes could express at once humble trust and admission of complete fragility? It was his utter weakness that attracted me, not his strength. This weakness cried out for love and called forth the mother in me. It is the same weakness of a helpless Infant King in a gentle Virgin’s arms, which was revealed to the world in that same Bethlehem. It is the same weakness of the Crucified One exposed to buffets and spitting, bound and nailed, naked on a tree. It is the same weakness of the elevated white Host, thin and fragile, on our altars today. It is the heavenly Wisdom hidden from the wise and given to the simple, the logic of a God who becomes weak so that we might learn to be strong in love. And above all, it is the mercy of a God who sends a child to us so we might become his mother. In the end, I was the one who depended on Wassim. It was my life that was in his breath.

Sr. Maria del Fiat Miola, SSVM is Ph.D. student, Catholic University of America.

 

JOHN HENRY CARDINAL NEWMAN, Priest and Theologian, 1890

NEWMAN John_Henry_Newman_circa_1863-e1440862754177-33829_250x250NEWMAN, John Henry Cardinal Deacon

On 21 February in the Prayer Book Calendar  we celebrate the life and work of John Henry Cardinal Newman.  For those of us who are of an Anglo-Catholic bent he is our shining star and our patron.  He was first and foremost a scholar and a priest as well as a devotee of the literature of the ancient and early Church.  Through his research and studies he determined that the Roman Catholic Chruch was doing a much better job of preserving the teachings and practices of the early Church as founded by the apostles than was the Church of England of his day.  He was born in 1801 and died in  1890.  Much has changed since his time and the Roman Catholic and Anglican Churches have moved much closer and seem to be on the verge of inter-communion given recent actions by the present Pope, Pope Francis.  However, in Newman’s day the Church of England was in a decaying  and corrupted state.  Bishops were chosen largely by virtue of family or political connection without regard to their theological credentials, priests neglected the sacraments and the offices and the congregants focused simply on reading the bible to the exclusion of all else.

Newman notes in his autobiography Apologia Pro Vita Sua  that “I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the Bible…” And, he noted further ” “…Of course I had a perfect knowledge of my Catechism.”  He goes on to note various instances in his life which influenced his thinking and which moved him toward a Catholic” view of things.  He notes that when he was fifteen he “fell under the influences of a definite Creed and received…impressions of dogma.” He further recounts his experience of meeting and studying under the Reverend John Keble.  With regard to the Christian Year Newman notes that “Keeble struck and original note and woke up in the hearts of thousands a new music…”  And through Keble’s writing and teaching he found that two main intellectual truth’s. The first was that “material phenomena are both types and the instruments of things unseen..”  a doctrine which embraces what Anglicans and Catholics believe about Sacraments.  Second that to meet the argument that “probability is the guide of life we must respond that “In matters of religion it is  not merely probability which makes us intellectually certain, but probability as it is put to account by faith and love. It is faith and love which give probability a force which it does not have in itself.”

Newman progressed further after reading the works of the Reverend Hurrell Froude who was also a pupil of Kebles. Unlike most Anglicans Froude spoke openly of his admiration for the Roman Chruch .  He delighted in the notion of a hierarchical system, of sacerdotal power, and of ecclesiastical liberty.  And, he expressed scorn for the maxim that “The Bible and the Bible only is the religion of the Protestants and gloried in accepting Tradition as a main instrument of religious teaching.

From his experiences with Keble and Froude Newman continued to develop his ideas about Anglican Catholicism.  As he developed he eventually came to blows with the Church of England establishment which viewed his ideas as heretical to “Anglican tradition.” After the publication of Tract 90 of the Tracts for the Times Newman found it difficult to withstand the furor of the Church’s infighting. He therefore became a Roman Catholic being received into that church in 1845.  He was later ordained and became a Roman Catholic priest.  He established a house of Oratory ( a religious Order or house emphasizing the practice of prayers and the sacraments)  near Birmingham.

Newman details his difficulties with both the Anglican and Roman Church establishments in his autobiography.  However, despite his problematic relationship with the Roman Catholic Church in England Pope Leo XIII made him a Cardinal in 1877.

 

Further reading:

Wikipedia John Henry Newman

Newman, Apologia Pro Vita Sua, Penguin Group London 1994

Keble, Christian Year first published 1827 made be downloaded as an ebook here: Christian Year – Project Gutenberg

Holy Women, Holy Men, Church Publishing Incorporated New York 2010

 

 

 

 

LOVING THOSE WHOM WE ARE CALLED TO LOVE

Reblogging a post from the Daily Devotional date 15 February 2016 published by the Living Church under the direction of the Reverend Emily Hylden.

Consecrated to Christ • Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr
Being a Disciple
Daily Devotional • February 15
By Lucas Crossland
I live in a bubble named Sewanee. It’s a wonderful place, but it’s surrounded by a very impoverished part of Tennessee. The university helps the surrounding area, of course, but because it is so idealistic we can easily forget about the poverty and problems around us. Being that most of the population of Sewanee is students, other things often cloud our minds, not least academic work. It’s important to keep in mind, though, that being a disciple of Jesus calls us out of our daily lives, into preaching the Gospel with our actions.

Being part of a community calls us to thinking and acting first for others, placing their needs and comforts above our own. Being a disciple is about disciplining ourselves to truly follow Jesus, even when it interrupts our daily lives, even when it makes us uncomfortable; it is through our suffering that will also share in Jesus’ resurrection at Easter.

The Gospel reading today is about realizing that ignoring the poor and needy has enormous, eternal effects on ourselves and on the communities in which we live.

May we examine ourselves and change our lives so that God may “mercifully increase in us gifts of holy discipline, in almsgiving, prayer, and fasting” in order that “our lives may be directed to the fulfilling of God’s most gracious will.”

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

CREATING FERTILE GROUND

A clear statement of a much disregarded reality.  You reap what you sow  In a time of rancorous political discussion we have two choices.  We can choose to regard the situation and people around as negatively as possible thereby sowing the seeds of discord  or we can choose to  view through the lens of God’s love.  As this devotion points out when we choose the latter course we create “fertile ground” and our potential becomes Godlike.  We become partners with God in creating things which are good and lasting.

I bring you anther insightful devotion form the Living Chruch and the Reverend Emily Hylden written by the Reverend Patrick Gahan:

 

Daily Devotional is a ministry of the Living Church Foundation.
Image licensed via Creative Commons.
Red Cross worker with an orphaned baby in Haiti • Jim Forest/Flickr
God Makes Fertile Ground 
Daily Devotional • February 12
By the Rev. Patrick Gahan
If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, … God will love you, bless you, and multiply you (Deut. 7:12-13).

The movie should have been filmed in black and white. I cannot recall a single colorful object in it. As is often our custom, Kay and I enjoyed an early lunch and then took in a movie on our day off. We chose Children of Men, as both of us had read the P.D. James novel on which it was based.

If the novel was dreary, the film was bleaker still. It is set in Britain in a tumultuous apocalyptic age. Trash has piled up a story or more on London’s streets, and hordes of immigrants are stuffed into circus cages to be deported. The darkest part, however, is that there are no children. Nineteen years earlier, all women across the world had become infertile. As I endured the film, I couldn’t help but wonder, did the infertility precede the loveless society or did the loveless society precede the mass infertility?

Moses weighs in with the latter view. He says if Israel will love God and keep his statutes, which means for the most part loving other human beings he sends their way, then “God will love, bless, and multiply them.” Moses adds: “God will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground” (Deut. 7:13).

We should not be particularly surprised by this promise. After all, God creates in love, and expects his creation to be extended in love. Any loveless corner of the earth would certainly be a godless corner. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” (1 John 4:16).

Well, I don’t want to spoil the movie for you, but toward the end a baby is born right in the middle of a filthy refugee camp that is afire with civil war. Once the revolutionaries and the government soldiers catch sight of the baby, all the fighting stops for a moment and not a sound is heard but the cry of the child.

If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, the Lord your God will maintain with you the covenant loyalty that he swore to your ancestors; 13he will love you, bless you, and multiply you; he will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock, in the land that he swore to your ancestors to give you. 14You shall be the most blessed of peoples, with neither sterility nor barrenness among you or your livestock. 15The Lord will turn away from you every illness; all the dread diseases of Egypt that you experienced, he will not inflict on you, but he will lay them on all who hate you. 16You shall devour all the peoples that the Lord your God is giving over to you, showing them no pity; you shall not serve their gods, for that would be a snare to you.

LENT – Inside to Outside

 

“It was the perfect time of the liturgical year for catechumens to spend a last rigorous preparation before their triumphal reception into the Church during the celebration of Easter. This forty day period first mentioned without much fanfare in the Canons of the Council of Nicaea and therefore probably of long standing, was the season which in English is known as Lent.”[1]

          The historical journey of Lent is told in one way through the bells that sound each morning and evening before the Daily Offices of Morning and Evening Prayer.  The Bell is rung thirty three times during Lent.  We ring it thirty three times – one ring for each year spent by Jesus amongst us.  And, as we enter Holy Week with its impending Tridium of Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday we ring the bell thirty nine times.  We ring the bell thirty nine times – one ring for each lash of the scourge used to mar and tear Jesus flesh wielded by a Roman soldier in preparation for his crucifixion.

The Church has historically viewed lent as a time of confession and discipline.  The popular culture seized on this notion and coined the phrase “giving up something for lent” In the popular mind that meant sacrifice and pain of some sort.  It invoked the spectre of an all-powerful deity demanding sacrifice to prove your worth.  But wait; what is Lent really and where did it come from?

Yes, there is a desert element, but there is more than “wandering in the desert”; there is something more divine than just sacrificing your liquor or your chocolate to appease the “old man” with the long flowing white beard.  There is – actually- a form of identification and lifting up which we so often overlook as we concentrate on “penance” for the sake of penance.

In the early years of the Church one did not just “join up” and start sipping and eating at the Eucharist.  Things were considered in a very deliberative fashion.  The new “pledges” that the Church referred to as “catechumens” were expected to learn about the scared mysteries of the faith and to prepare themselves for baptism in a very thorough way.  Baptism was viewed as a door, a worm hole, which led from one form of life to another; it was death leading to “larger life”.  One died to this world and was reborn into another – the world of the Church.

So these catechumens studied, and prayed.  As time went on their “ritual” of learning and prayer took on aspects of fasting and denial.  And as time went on the already established members of the Church felt the urge to support these catechumens in their journey and help them resist the temptation to “fall back” or give up. And so they began to emulate their prayers and their practices to encourage them.  Therein lays the beginnings of what we now call the season of Lent.

The importance of this history lesson is this:  Lenten discipline is not about discipline or sacrifice for its own sake.  It is, as with all the practices of the faith, about bringing to bear on the human condition the mercy and blessing of a truly loving and caring God.  It is about supporting others and in doing so lifting ourselves up out of our own narrowness thereby moving us closer to God.

In a recent article on the Faith and Leadership Blog the Reverend Rhonda Mawhood Lee[2] writes about another way to view Lent which we typically overlook.  She writes:

      So I keep a holy Lent by listening to Thomas Tallis’ “Lamentations of Jeremiah and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme.” I savor wine and chocolate in moderation. Most importantly, I tend the human relationships the church’s Lenten disciplines are meant to support. I give alms, especially to those who suffer in winter’s cold. I make myself available for conversation with people who may be struggling with seasonal affective disorder or chronic depression. And from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, I mail a handwritten note each day to someone who may need a word of encouragement or appreciation.

Even with its challenges, I have come to see Lent as a gift: a season when the church places the hardships and trials of this life at the forefront of our attention, acknowledging their cost yet proclaiming that none of them can keep Easter from coming. For those who feel stuck in the wilderness, waiting in hope for the resurrection may mean gathering together for beer and pizza, or coffee and cake. And that is holy.[3]

          This epitomizes the earliest beginnings of this season.  It is not one which glorifies self-sacrifice or self-denial but rather one meant to reach out “tending to human relationships”, “giving alms to those suffering”, and “making oneself available for conversation” so as to bring to bear the power of the Resurrection upon the “hardships and trials of this life”.

I confess to you, my brothers and sisters, that I have not been faithful in following these practices. But for my Lenten discipline I intend to use this holy season as a way of reaching out and making the hardships and trials of this life as experienced by others the target of my love as an expression God’s love and by supporting others to the best of my ability.

Amen

[1] MacCullough, Christianity – The First Three Thousand Years. Viking Press (New York, 2009). Page 200.

[2] My thanks to the Reverend Emily R. Hylden for noting this blog and this article in a recently published piece she authored and then published on her blog: Hope of Things Not Seen on February 9, 2016. see  The Tenderness of Lent

[3] Rhonda Marwood Le  writing on Faith and Leadership. see   Marwood, Not Giving Up in Lent

A LESSON OF CANDLEMAS

The Presentation

 

Tonight I am publishing an insightful sermon preached by the Reverend Dane Boston on  Candlemas last year.   Dane is a dear friend and gifted preacher and i this sermon opens up for us insights into the meaning of Simeon’s declaration:  “Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace …..

THAT BLESSED DEPENDANCY

“There wee leave you in that blessed dependency, to hang upon him who hangs upon the Crosse…” -John Donne, “Death’s Duell”

“According to thy word…”

by The Rev’d Canon Dane E. Boston

Last February, it was my honor to accept the invitation of the Rev’d Karl Griswold-Kuhn, my dear friend and seminary classmate, to be the guest preacher at Solemn Evensong and Benediction for the Feast of Candlemas.

St Paul’s Church, Kinderhook, New York, is a warm, faithful congregation on fire with the Gospel and committed to sharing the Good News in the Hudson Valley and beyond. My family and I have always found it a place of joy and refreshment. It was a special delight to hear Evensong sung by the talented boys of the Cathedral Choir of Men and Boys from The Cathedral of All Saints in Albany, and to preach to a full church (on a Saturday night!) for this holy feast.

A Sermon Preached on the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple (Candlemas), February 2, 2013, at St Paul’s Church, Kinderhook, New York

by the Rev’d Dane E. Boston, Curate of Christ Church, Greenwich

Texts: Malachi 3:1-5; Luke 2:22-40

“Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word…”

In the name of Almighty God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.

It is an honor and a joy to be with you at St Paul’s Church as we keep the holy feast of Candlemas. Of all the great days in the sacred year of the Church, few are so rich with stirring imagery, and no others are so intimately associated with one of the great hymns of the faith.

For centuries now, the holy words of holy Simeon—“Lord now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace”—have marked the close of day for Christians around the world. Whether in the uniquely Anglican glories of choral Evensong, sung so beautifully this evening in this place, or in the contemplative offering of cloistered Compline, or in the solitary murmur of said Evening Prayer, this song—the Song of Simeon, the Nunc Dimittis—is how the Church says “good night.” And so it is fitting that we have gathered this Candlemas evening to keep this feast with its appointed rites: with the solemn blessing of candles, with hymns in praise of the light of God revealed in Christ Jesus, and with the reading of Scripture’s record of that first Nunc Dimittis.

Yet it seems to me that there is a risk for us as we keep this feast; as we remember that holy meeting of Mary, and Joseph, and the baby Jesus, with the aged Simeon in the Temple at Jerusalem. The image of the encounter itself is so dramatic, so filled with joy and hope and promise, that we might almost forget its significance. The words of Simeon’s song of praise are so well known—we have become so accustomed to giving thanks that his old eyes “have seen [God’s] salvation, which [he] has prepared before the face of all people”—that we risk letting them wash over us without hearing them. And yet if we allow the beauty of the scene, and the thankful, poetic words, and the candles, and the incense, and the choir, and the music, all dominate our focus, we are in danger of missing the best part of Simeon’s song and the great truth proclaimed in this feast. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,” sings the old man, and our hearts are gladdened by his pious hope for holy rest. But the most important words are the four that follow: “according to thy word.”

“According to thy word.”  All that we remember this night; all that we celebrate and give thanks for and rejoice in; all the great glory and wonder of Candlemas; it all comes down to that phrase: “according to thy word.” Those words are the key to understanding this feast, and indeed it might be said that they are the key to understanding and living the Christian faith.

You see, when Simeon asks to depart in peace “according to [God’s] word,” he makes an extraordinary proclamation. First, he announces that God makes promises: that God is living and active in the world. Second, and even better, Simeon’s song proclaims that the God who makes promises also keeps those promises. Those four words declare that the God whom Simeon serves, the God whom Simeon has worshipped and adored these long years, is faithful. The God who gave the Law, whose holy commandment calls Mary and Joseph to present their precious baby boy in the Temple, is true. The God whom Anna praises for the edification of all those awaiting his salvation is steadfast. The God whom Malachi prophesied “will suddenly come into his Temple” is trustworthy. The God who promised through every prophet, in every time, and by the very Law that he gave, that he would come and save his people from their sin: that God is faithful.

Tonight, we rejoice with Simeon that God keeps his promises: that he has accomplished all that has been foretold, according to his word. Indeed, he has accomplished all that has been foretold in and through his Word: the Word of God made flesh, Jesus our Lord. And with our hearts set on that promise, with our ears tingling with Simeon’s wondrous praise “according to thy word,” we begin to see this feast aright. This is a feast of the faithful God; of the God who keeps his promises; of the God who acts in this world “according to [his] word.”

And yet there is even more to celebrate in this feast. This night declares to us God’s great faithfulness, but it declares something else, too. In this feast of Candlemas, in that phrase “according to thy word,” we see that the God who is faithful is also surprising, mysterious, and sovereign. In the tenderness of this scene, in the fragility of the baby, in the decrepitude of Simeon and Anna, in the amazement of Mary and Joseph, we are reminded that God is faithful to his word—but not to our expectations.

God does not come to his Temple in power and might, in glory and majesty. But still he comes, in the weakness and vulnerability of human flesh—according to his word. Simeon does not look upon the Messiah with the eyes of a young man: vigorous, eager, ready to follow him and aid him and serve him as a disciple. But still his eyes, aged and worn out with waiting, behold the Christ—according to God’s word. Mary and Joseph do not understand all that has been promised of this child. But still they are obedient, even as they marvel at the dark and wondrous words here spoken, carrying out their place in God’s plan—according to God’s word. The God who has promised salvation to his people and who brings light to the whole world will not act according to the expectations of disciples, or Pharisees, or chief priests, or scribes. But still, as he announces Good News to the poor, as he heals the sick, as he forgives the sinful, as he drives out the demons, as he cleanses that very Temple, as he climbs the hill of Calvary, and as he dies upon the cross of shame: still, in all this, God acts—according to his word. And finally on the Day of Resurrection, on the Day of his triumph over the powers of Sin and Death, he shows himself faithful—according to his word.

Dear friends, we need the message of Candlemas. We need to hear again the proclamation that God is faithful—that God keeps his promises, that God acts according to his word. We need, as well, the reminder that God’s ways are not our ways: that his actions will not always conform to our expectations: that he is faithful—abundantly, eternally faithful—not to what we desire in our ignorance, nor deserve in our sinfulness, but to what he has promised in his holiness. Candlemas holds before us our faithful, surprising God. This feast bids us, with Simeon, to look upon him, to gaze upon him in the person of Jesus Christ, and to glimpse him at work in this world and in our souls by the power of the Holy Spirit. This night calls us to hold him in our hearts just as Simeon held him in his arms, and to follow where he leads, though the course be unexpected and the way unknown.

Beloved people of God, may our praise this night and always be of our faithful, surprising God. May the obedience of Mary and Joseph shape our lives. May the unexpected, unlikely gift of Jesus, the Word of God in human flesh, enlighten our darkened hearts. May we who have worshipped the faithful God this evening, and who have looked with the eyes of faith on the promised Savior of the world, go forth from this place with the words of Simeon on our lips: “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

AMEN.

When Jesus Shows Up

I am re-blogging a meditation from the Daily Devotional published by The Living Chruch Foundation by permission.  This meditation explores the theological implications of the minor theme of Raphael’s famous work The Transfiguration and is written by priest friend Emily Hylden.  I must confess that when viewing this work I tend to simply ignore its second theme involving the exorcism of the young man possessed by a demon. It is now clear to me that it is an important theme emphasizing a very important theological principle concerning our nature as Christians.   With Christ in Glory we need no longer fear our direct contact with God or feel obligated to veil our faces.  We are now assured of our acceptance despite our brokenness and sin. I start this entry with a view of Raphael’s entire work and then reproduce the meditation which begins with the detail showing the attempt by the Apostles to exorcise the demon to no avail.  The meditation then follows as published.

The Transfiguration

Artist Raphael
Year 1516–20
Type Tempera on wood
Dimensions 405 cm × 278 cm (159 in × 109 in)
Location Pinacoteca Vaticana, Vatican Cit

 

Transfigurazione_(Raffaello)_September_2015-1a

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When Jesus Shows Up
Daily Devotional • February 7 • Transfiguration Sunday
By the Rev. Emily R. Hylden

The Transfiguration, by Raphael; the Vatican Museum Rome; image via Rodney/Flickr

What are you hiding?

In Raphael’s painting of the Transfiguration, a detail of which is captured here, the great artist includes the story that follows the Transfiguration proper in the Gospel of Luke. A demon-possessed boy cannot manage to be freed by his evil captors until Jesus arrives; the apostles who had been left down the mountain when a few went on the transcendent hike had tried without success to cast the demon out of the child.

On this Transfiguration Sunday, as it is celebrated in churches around the globe (not to be confused with the Feast of the Transfiguration, celebrated on August 6), Jesus is revealed in divine glory. This moment is echoed by Moses’ shining face on the mountain after speaking with God and receiving the law; it is a moment that fulfills the other and makes Jesus’ divinity clear to his contemporary and future disciples.

Moses’ face is veiled when he comes back down the mountain from his encounter with the divine, but disciples of the New Covenant are urged to stand with unveiled faces (2 Cor. 3:18). Veils often conceal and obscure, and while it is debated what exactly Moses’ veil concealed and from whom, it seems rather like fallen human nature to hide parts of ourselves from God and from each other.

Indeed, perhaps the disciples at the mountainside with their young, possessed charge, were frightened to be exposed as mere men (or to be unequal to the challenge, or to be of little faith, or a thousand other possibilities). Healing and wholeness comes when Jesus arrives, when Jesus is revealed in the flesh and as the Son of God. Because of Jesus, we may stand with our pockmarked, wrinkly, unveiled faces, allowing God’s glory to light them and cause our skin, ourselves, to shine.

2 Corinthians 3:7-18

Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets, came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses’ face because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, 8how much more will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? 9For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of justification abound in glory! 10Indeed, what once had glory has lost its glory because of the greater glory; 11for if what was set aside came through glory, much more has the permanent come in glory!

12Since, then, we have such a hope, we act with great boldness, 13not like Moses, who put a veil over his face to keep the people of Israel from gazing at the end of the glory that was being set aside. 14But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. 15Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds; 16but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.17Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.

Daily Devotional is a ministry of the Living Church Foundation.
Image licensed via Creative Commons.

FEAR and it’s Nemesis – Faith

 

Daily Devotional is a ministry of the Living Church Foundation.
Image licensed via Creative Commons.
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Man Kneeling in Prayer. Detail from 14th-century glass in Waterperry Church, Oxfordshire, via Fr. Lawrence Lew, OP/Flickr
Wait for the Lord
Daily Devotional • February 6
By Pam Boston
This is one of my many favorite Psalms. It exudes confidence in God and in his action in my life. When I am afraid or simply confused, I often turn to this Psalm.

It begins, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

Fear sells. Fear can be powerful. Fear can be especially strong when it is dark, physically or emotionally. Fear can be increased when we are faced with the unknown, be it a medical diagnosis, people who are different than we are, financial uncertainties or rumors. Fear is not always logical, but it is real.

Sometimes fear causes us to become paralyzed. Sometimes fear causes us to lash out. Sometimes fear causes us to run. I think God is trying to tell us that we do not need to be afraid. He will care for us, with or without our best effort.

Little Tielar has a birth defect. Though she has had an alarming number of surgeries in her brief five years of life, she smiles all the time. She has difficulty breathing and can sometimes only speak in a whisper. Yet she continues to participate, to try, to trust. She continues to be patient. She believes it will all turn out okay.

The writer ends the Psalm with a proclamation: “I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!” Then he adds an admonition: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!”

God will come through. Wait for the Lord — if not for yourself, then on behalf of someone else.

Psalm 27The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?

2When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes— they shall stumble and fall.

3Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.

4One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple.

5For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.

6Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.

7Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!

8“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!” Your face, Lord, do I seek.

9Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!

10If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.

11Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.

12Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.

13I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

14Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!

The Eve of the Presentation Also Known as Candlemas

Another timely and thoughtful post from the Reverend Emily Hylden and the folks at the Living Church.

Detail from the reredos in the Dominican House of Studies in Washington DC., image via Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P./Flickr

Feast of the Presentation
Daily Devotional • February 2
By Pam Boston

We talked about this part of Jesus’ life in Sunday School.  I asked whether they thought the words of Simeon and Anna would make a difference to Jesus or Mary or Joseph.  They all agreed that Jesus was too small to know what was going on.  One girl pointed out that Jesus would probably hear about it growing up; a family story re-told again and again.

What about Mary?  What about Joseph?  Most agreed that both were probably surprised.  Sarah pointed out that because of what happened with the angels and the shepherds, Mary & Joseph “may have been surprised, but not really.”  Simeon and Anna would simply back up what they had been told – just another confirmation.  The children all nodded.

I was surprised by their curiosity about Simeon and Anna as people.  They asked so many questions.  When I asked what a difference it would make in the lives of Simeon and Anna, they decided “joy” was probably the biggest emotion.  “Relief” was also mentioned.  Then we got down to Tielar’s question:  “But Jesus was just a baby!  How did they know?”  Without hesitation, her older brother Miric answered, “Simple…God told them.”  After the initial “Oh!” that was enough for the rest of the class.

I was filled with envy.  How often do I want proof?  These children didn’t need proof.  They thought it was wonderful that God would be so good to Mary, Joseph, Simeon and Anna.  The children simply saw God giving lovely gifts to four people, being involved in their lives, and caring about what they wanted most.

As so often happens, the teacher learned from the children.

 

Luke 2:22-40

When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord23(as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”), 24and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,29“Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; 30for my eyes have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” 33And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.” 36There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. 39When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.