24 June 2014

Words from an overflowing heart...

It is my privilege to have formed a friendship over the past several years with a remarkable and devout man, David Moyer, a long-time Episcopal priest, who then served as an Anglican bishop during the days when a "faithful remnant" showed great courage in attempting to salvage some semblance of catholicity in Anglicanism.  Although that particular effort was not successful in its immediate goal, there was a deep spirituality among many of the groups which were formed under the leadership of dedicated clergy.  A great many of these clerics have found their way into the Ordinariate, very often with their groups intact; in other cases, certain clergy were not called by the Church to Catholic ordination, but as faithful shepherds they have brought their people to Rome and are being received themselves as laymen.  David Moyer is one such leader.

It is my personal opinion that he has a vocation to Catholic priesthood; however, my opinion counts for nothing because it is the Church which issues the call.  I pray for him daily, however, that if God has indeed given him a vocation, eventually it will be recognized.

This past Sunday, the Solemnity of Corpus Christi, marked the last day David would serve as pastor to his people.  He had brought them to the very door of the Church, and now the community of Blessed John Henry Newman will be received into the full communion of the Church, as will David and his wife Rita.

During his Anglican ministry David was known as an excellent preacher, and for good reason.  He is eloquent and learned, but above all he is a man of great faith, and it shines through in his words.  The following is the text of his last sermon to his people, and I found it to be simply beautiful.

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Feast of Corpus Christi, 22 June, 2014

+In the Name…

Jesus said: “For my flesh is food indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him” (St. John 6:55-56).

The full liturgical and Choir season began for us on the Solemnity of the Feast of the Holy Cross in September. This season ends today as we celebrate the Feast of Corpus Christi, or as it is named in the Catholic Church: “The Feast of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ.”

We began the full liturgical and Choir season with our joy in the Cross of Christ for the world’s salvation. We end with our joy for the gift of Christ’s Body and Blood in the Eucharist for us to partake as sacramental food for life’s journey to have Christ within us, for us to take Christ and be Christ to the world.

You know that the word Eucharist (eucharistia in Greek) means “Thanksgiving.” The Eucharist, the Mass, is the chief and fundamental offering of the Church and her people to God in thanksgiving for God the Father’s gift of His Son to be the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

The Eucharist is primarily a corporate act of thanksgiving to God, and secondly a feeding for us with the food we need,so that Christ abides in us, and we in Him.

I remember when I was a Junior in seminary (the designation for a first year student) that I once was about to enter the seminary’s chapel for Mass, but as I began to enter the chapel doors, I decided that I was not in a mood of thanksgiving because of something (I forget what) that was going on in my life, so I turned around and returned to the seminary apartment where Rita and I lived.

In spiritual hindsight, I had done the wrong thing because I hadn’t appropriated the fact that the Eucharist is about our “It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places [physical place and emotional place]give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God.”

I wasn’t in a place of being thankful for what I was dealing with, but that was a lame excuse for not going to Mass. And beyond that is something more; something that has been ringing in my ears, churning in my mind, and stirring inmy soul in recent times; and that is what St. Paul wrote, which I have put before you many times recently.

St. Paul wrote to the Church in Thessalonica: “Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (5:16-18).

All of us struggle at times to know and discern what the will of God is for us. Here, St. Paul, who experienced a total change of life, belief, and conduct on the Road to Damascus when Jesus spoke to him, who was accepted by the chosen Apostles of Jesus as a fellow Apostle, tells us what the will of God in Christ Jesus IS for us. We are to “rejoice always, pray constantly, and give thanks in all circumstances.”

Now I’ll be the first to say that this is a tall order, but, again, it is the will of God in Christ Jesus for us; which means that we are not to dismiss it, but strive to do it!

I’ll also be the first to say that rejoicing always and giving thanks in all circumstances may seem at times like lunacy and mental instability. Does a mother naturally rejoice and give thanks with a miscarriage or a stillbirth? Does a man rejoice and give thanks when he is told that he has colon cancer that has spread throughout his body? Did the Jewish mother in Auschwitz rejoice and give thanks when her son was ripped from her arms and to be thrown into an oven?

Less traumatically, a student fails a critical test that has a critical effect on his future aspiration. A plane is delayed on the airport’s tarmac, and the parents miss the college graduation of their daughter who was her class’s valedictorian. A young woman who is very much in love with a man has the engagement broken by the man because he declares that he is being drawn to another woman he met at work. Do such people naturally rejoice and give thanks? No, they don’t.

Things happen to us – some of own doing, and some because of the doing of others. Such is life; such is our sinfulness; and such is the sinfulness of others. Our task is not to fall into the place of victimization. We are to repent of our sins; seek reconciliation with others; and forgive others – seventy times seven, and not fall into the trap of thinking that God is small, but rather that he is great, and that He knows our circumstances and situations, and that with His love and mercy, He is there to help as we live in a fallen world, in which many times we are discouraged, confused, and frustrated; but, again, God knows our feelings, but we are to tell Him what we feel.

I have thought much of Moses in recent times. He was excluded from leading the people and from even going into the Promised Land because of an act of disobedience. In the Book of Exodus, we hear that at one point God commands Moses to bring water of a rock for the disgruntled Israelites to drink. He was commanded by God to strike the rock with his rod. This was at Horeb. In the Book of Numbers, there is a second situation when the Israelites are crying for water, and are mad at Moses and Aaron for bringing them to a waterless place, Kadesh –barnea. God commands Moses to speak to the rock in order for it to produce water. But Moses struck the rock, not once but twice. For this act of disobedience, Moses was not permitted to lead the people into the Promised Land, nor go there himself. He would only be able to look at it from a distance before he died.

I’m no Moses, but I have been disobedient to God in different ways and at different times. I also have striven to be obedient, and did what I felt needed to be done. Hindsight is 20/20, and growth in spiritual wisdom is a life-long enterprise. I have been kept from leading you as a priest into the Catholic Church (in the sense of taking you across the Tiber), but unlike Moses I will be going with you into the Catholic Church as one of you. Praise God!

What God’s will in Christ Jesus is for us is that we rejoice and give thanks that God is with us in all circumstances; that we are never alone; that His comfort and strength is there for us; that no matter how hard, heinous, tragic, dark, life-shattering, life-altering, difficult, unexpected, and troublesome things are, God is there with us.

The Psalmist says: “If I climb up into heaven, thou art there; if I go down to hell, thou are there also” (Psalm 139:7).

And He redeems all things that we give Him that need to be redeemed. In the Book of Revelation, Jesus says, “Behold, I make all things new” (21:5).

God is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipotent (all-powerful), and omnipresent (present always and everywhere). And as St. Paul wrote to the Church in Rome: “For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things preset, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (8:37-39). And this is the St. Paul who with his missionary partner, Silas, prayed and sang while in prison in Philippi to the extent that the prison doors were miraculously opened and “every one’s fetters were unfastened (Acts 16:25-26).

Not to rejoice always and give thanks in all circumstances is to forsake God whose will it is that we know ourselves not to be forsaken. We are to pray constantly so that the pipeline of grace and guidance is open, and knowing that He is ever-present with love and mercy in abundance; and as we constantly pray, which the Oxford theologian Dr. John Macquarie called “spiritual thinking,” we remember yet another thing that St. Paul stated:  “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

So, on this day of great thanksgiving for the Eucharist, which as the Catechism of the Catholic Church states is “the source and summit  of the Christian life,” and a new chapter  has begun for this Fellowship under the patronage of Blessed John Henry Newman, and as I celebrate my final Mass as an Anglican priest and bishop, let us give thanks above all else for the love of God, and for our calling to be open and  humble servants of Christ for Christ, not for ourselves, as dependent children who do trust in the Providence of God, who in His Son, Christ Jesus said, “I am the Alpha  and the Omega, the beginning and the end” (Revelation 21:6).

Changing gears to end this sermon, from scripture to a wonderful and classic book and movie, the Wizard of Oz said to the Tin Man, “A heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” I know very deeply your love for me, and I pray that you know deeply my love for you.

God bless you, and may Our Lady and Blessed John Henry Newman pray for us.

+In the Name…