29 June 2014

The Holy Martyrs of Rome

“It was through envy and jealousy that the greatest and most upright pillars of the Church were persecuted and struggled unto death.... First of all, Peter, who because of unreasonable jealousy suffered not merely once or twice but many times, and, having thus given his witness, went to the place of glory that he deserved. It was through jealousy and conflict that Paul showed the way to the prize for perseverance. He was put in chains seven times, sent into exile, and stoned; a herald both in the east and the west, he achieved a noble fame by his faith....  Around these men with their holy lives there are gathered a great throng of the elect, who, though victims of jealousy, gave us the finest example of endurance in the midst of many indignities and tortures. Through jealousy women were tormented, like Dirce or the daughters of Danaus, suffering terrible and unholy acts of violence. But they courageously finished the course of faith and despite their bodily weakness won a noble prize.”

- Pope St. Clement

Almighty and everlasting God, who didst enkindle the flame of thy love in the hearts of the holy martyrs of Rome: Grant to us, thy humble servants, a like faith and power of love, that we who rejoice in their triumph may profit by their example; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

28 June 2014

The Widow's Mite

"The Widow's Mite" by James Tissot

[Jesus] looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury; and he saw a poor widow put in two copper coins. And he said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all the living that she had."
-St. Luke 21:1-4
We know exactly where Jesus was when he said this. In the Temple there were the various Courts – the Court of the Gentiles, the Court of the Women, the Court of the Israelites, the Court of the Priests, all gathered around the Holy of Holies. A person would go through these various Courts to get to the next one, as far as he was allowed. In this particular passage, Jesus was speaking in the Court of the Women. Men could be there, but women could go no further. Located there were thirteen collecting boxes known as the Trumpets. They were shaped like trumpets with the narrow part at the top and the wider part at the foot. Each one was assigned to offerings for a different purpose - for the wood that was used to burn the sacrifice, for the incense that was burned on the altar, for the upkeep of the golden vessels, and so on. It was near these Trumpets that Jesus was sitting.

He looked up and saw several people putting their offerings into the Trumpets, including a poor widow. All she had in the world was two “lepta.” A lepton was the smallest of all coins; the name means "the thin one." It was worth only a fraction of a penny, but Jesus said that it far out-valued all the other offerings, because it was everything she had.

He was calling attention to some important points. When it comes to a gift, there’s the spirit in which it’s given. A gift which is given unwillingly, a gift which is given with a grudge, a gift given for the sake of prestige or of self-display loses a lot of its value. The only real gift is that which is the outflow of the loving heart, something given because the giver cannot help it.

And there’s the sacrifice which the gift involves. Something which is virtually nothing to one person may be a huge amount to somebody else. That day in the Temple, the gifts of the rich, as they flung their offerings into the Trumpets, didn’t really cost them very much; but the two lepta of the widow cost her everything she had. The rich had probably calculated how much they could afford; she gave with a kind of reckless generosity which could give no more.

Giving does not begin to be real giving until it hurts. A gift shows our love only when we have had to do without something or have had to work doubly hard in order to give it. This was the point Christ was making.

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.

+   +   +   +   +

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…

23 June 2014

The Nativity of St. John the Baptist

Almighty God, by whose providence thy servant St. John the Baptist was wonderfully born, and sent to prepare the way of thy Son our Saviour by preaching repentance: Make us so to follow his doctrine and holy life, that we may truly repent according to his preaching; and after his example constantly speak the truth, boldly rebuke vice, and patiently suffer for the truth’s sake; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Adoring the Lord: Corpus Christi

At the Shrine Altar.

Returning to the High Altar.

22 June 2014

St. John Fisher & St. Thomas More

Two great heroes of the English Church, forever linked together, are St. John Fisher (1469-1535) and St. Thomas More(1478-1535). Standing for the apostolic dignity of the Church as against secular attempts to undermine its rightful authority, these two shed their blood for their consciences' sake, out of love for Jesus Christ.

We are fortunate to have a lengthy description of St. Thomas More, written by his good friend Erasmus, in letter dated 1519:

You ask me to paint you a full-length portrait of More as in a picture. Would that I could do it as perfectly as you eagerly desire it. At least I will try to give a sketch of the man, as well as from my long familiarity with him I have either observed or can now recall. To begin, then, with what is least known to you, in stature he is not tall, though not remarkably short. His limbs are formed with such perfect symmetry as to leave nothing to be desired. His complexion is white, his face fair rather than pale, and though by no means ruddy, a faint flush of pink appears beneath the whiteness of his skin. His hair is dark brown, or brownish black. The eyes are grayish The eyes are grayish blue, with some spots, a kind which betokens singular talent, and among the English is considered attractive, whereas Germans generally prefer black. It is said that none are so free from vice.

His countenance is in harmony with his character, being always expressive of an amiable joyousness, and even an incipient laughter, and, to speak candidly, it is better framed for gladness than for gravity and dignity, though without any approach to folly or buffoonery. The right shoulder is a little higher than the left, especially when he walks. This is not a defect of birth, but the result of habit, such as we often contract. In the rest of his person there is nothing to offend. His hands are the least refined part of his body.

He was from his boyhood always most careless about whatever concerned his body. His youthful beauty may be guessed from what still remains, though I knew him when be was not more than three-and-twenty. Even now he is not much over forty. He has good health, though not robust; able to endure all honourable toil, and subject to very few diseases. He seems to promise a long life, as his father still survives in a wonderfully green old age.

I never saw anyone so indifferent about food. Until he was a young man he delighted in drinking water, but that was natural to him (id illi patrium fuit). Yet not to seem singular or morose, he would hide his temperance from his guests by drinking out of a pewter vessel beer almost as light as water, or often pure water. It is the custom in England to pledge each other in drinking wine. In doing so he will merely touch it with his lips, not to seem to dislike it, or to fall in with the custom. He likes to eat corned beef and coarse bread much leavened, rather than what most people count delicacies. Otherwise he has no aversion to what gives harmless pleasure to the body. He prefers milk diet and fruits, and is especially fond of eggs.

His voice is neither loud nor very weak, but penetrating; not resounding or soft, but that of a clear speaker. Though he delights in every kind of music he has no vocal talents. He speaks with great clearness and perfect articulation, without rapidity or hesitation. He likes a simple dress, using neither silk nor purple nor gold chain, except when it may not be omitted. It is wonderful how negligent he is as regards all the ceremonious forms in which most men make politeness to consist. He does not require them from others, nor is he anxious to use them himself, at interviews or banquets, though he is not unacquainted with them when necessary. But he thinks it unmanly to spend much time in such trifles. Formerly he was most averse to the frequentation of the court, for he has a great hatred of constraint (tyrannis) and loves equality. Not without much trouble he was drawn into the court of Henry VIII., though nothing more gentle and modest than that prince can be desired. By nature More is chary of his liberty and of ease, yet, though he enjoys ease, no one is more alert or patient when duty requires it.

He seems born and framed for friendship, and is a most faithful and enduring friend. He is easy of access to all; but if he chances to get familiar with one whose vices admit no correction, he manages to loosen and let go the intimacy rather than to break it off suddenly. When he finds any sincere and according to his heart, he so delights in their society and conversation as to place in it the principal charm of life. He abhors games of tennis, dice, cards, and the like, by which most gentlemen kill time. Though he is rather too negligent of his own interests, no one is more diligent in those of his friends. In a word, if you want a perfect model of friendship, you will find it in no one better than in More. In society he is so polite, so sweet-mannered, that no one is of so melancholy a disposition as not to be cheered by him, and there is no misfortune that he does not alleviate. Since his boyhood he has so delighted in merriment, that it seems to be part of his nature; yet he does not carry it to buffoonery, nor did he ever like biting pleasantries. When a youth he both wrote and acted some small comedies. If a retort is made against himself, even without ground, he likes it from the pleasure he finds in witty repartees. Hence he amused himself with composing epigrams when a young man, and enjoyed Lucian above all writers. Indeed, it was he who pushed me to write the "Praise of Folly," that is to say, he made a camel frisk.

In human affairs there is nothing from which he does not extract enjoyment, even from things that are most serious. If he converses with the learned and judicious, he delights in their talent; if with the ignorant and foolish, he enjoys their stupidity. He is not even offended by professional jesters. With a wonderful dexterity he accommodates himself to every disposition. As a rule, in talking with women, even with his own wife, he is full of jokes and banter.

No one is less led by the opinions of the crowd, yet no one departs less from common sense. One of his great delights is to consider the forms, the habits, and the instincts of different kinds of animals. There is hardly a species of bird that he does not keep in his house, and rare animals such as monkeys, foxes, ferrets, weasels and the like. If he meets with anything foreign, or in any way remarkable, he eagerly buys it, so that his house is full of such things, and at every turn they attract the eye of visitors, and his own pleasure is renewed whenever he sees others pleased.

There is no similar description of the godly bishop, St. John Fisher; however, in his correspondence, St. Thomas More wrote these words about him:

"I reckon in this realm no one man, in wisdom, learning, and long approved virtue together, meet to be matched and compared with him."

O God, who didst raise up amongst the English people thy blessed Martyrs St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More in defense of the faith and in witness to the dignity of Apostolic Authority: grant by their merits and prayers; that in the profession of one faith we may all be made one in Christ, and in Him continue to be at one with one another. Through the same Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

21 June 2014

Processing to the outdoor shrine...

On the Solemnity of Corpus Christi our procession of the Blessed Sacrament takes us to an outdoor altar, which marks an important place on our church grounds – the site of the “Finding of the Crucifix,” and also the spot where the first Mass was celebrated on the property.

After the parish was canonically erected on 15 August 1983, I began to search for a permanent location for us to worship and to grow from our original eighteen people. We were, at that time, meeting at San Francesco di Paola Church, in downtown San Antonio. It was a lovely little place, built by Italian immigrants, but the location was ill-suited for us. Everyone had to travel quite a distance, and it was difficult to build up a parish life in a place which was fairly remote for all of us. So I began to look for some land.

It seemed to me that the future growth of San Antonio would be taking place on the northwest side of the city. Everything pointed to it, and that has indeed come to pass. The archdiocese had (several years before) purchased a small plot of land for the possibility that a territorial parish might be needed. When I inquired about locating our parish there, the answer was, “Yes, that would be fine. There’s not much happening out there anyway, and we probably won’t need it for a territorial parish.” The short-sightedness of that statement aside, it worked out well for us. To get the property, we were required to pay a rather hefty sum to the archdiocese, which eventually we did.

I knew this was the spot. I had visited it before making the request. I had to crawl through the underbrush, literally on my belly, to make any kind of exploration. I had a small medal of Our Lady of the Atonement with me, and I buried it in the earth as I was making my slow process through the woods and brush, claiming it for our Lady and her parish. Shortly after burying the medal, I came into a small clearing, allowing me to stand up. With the thick undergrowth surrounding me, I saw in the middle of the clearing a wooden cross stuck into the ground, and fastened to the rough cross was a small crucifix.  I took it as a sign. This was the place. This was where our Lord and His Blessed Mother wanted us to be. But I need to tell you why such a sign was necessary.

At the same time as I had requested the possibility of our getting the land, some Dominican priests had approached the archbishop about staffing a chaplaincy for the University of Texas, which is a short distance away. Even though we had asked first, the archbishop thought perhaps a better use for the land would be to give it to the Dominicans. I told the archbishop, “You can’t! I’ve already claimed it for Our Lady of the Atonement.” He expressed his regret, but told me his mind was set. I warned him that we’d begin praying. And so we did.

For nine evenings we gathered to pray the Novena to the Holy Ghost. By the fourth evening, the archbishop contacted me. “I don’t know what kind of prayer you’ve been saying,” he said, “but the situation with the Dominicans has fallen through. You can build there.” We finished the novena as an act of thanksgiving. We were intensely grateful to God, but not surprised at what He had done. Mind you, I have nothing against the Dominicans, but the Blessed Mother had other plans for the land.

I saved that little crucifix. We built a simple wooden shrine to Our Lady of the Atonement on the property where the crucifix had been found, and fastened it onto the peak of the shrine’s roof. In time we made plans to celebrate a Mass there, and to break ground for the church.

Today there stands a beautiful shrine, a copy of the original wooden one, but now in stone. Within the altar is the simple wood altar which stood there originally, now protected by a permanent stone altar. And the little crucifix is there. It’s mounted in the place where the tabernacle would normally be, if this were an indoor altar.

So it reminds us of our beginnings, and of how God guided and protected us as new converts to the Catholic faith. Every year on the Solemnity of Corpus Christi we bring our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament to this spot, in thanksgiving for all His blessings.

The original wooden Shrine.

The Shrine today.

19 June 2014

St. Alban, Britain's Protomartyr

St. Alban is the first recorded Christian martyr in Britain, and although the traditional date of his death is c.304 during the persecution under the Emperor Diocletian, there are many scholars who would date it as early as c.209, during the persecution under the Emperor Septimius Severus.

Alban was a pagan, serving as a soldier in the Roman Army. He gave shelter to a Christian priest who was fleeing from arrest, and during the next few days the two talked at length. As a result, Alban became a Christian.

When officers came in search of the priest, Alban met them, dressed in the priest's cloak, and they mistook him for the priest and arrested him. He refused to renounce his new faith, and was beheaded, so becoming the first Christian martyr in Britain. The second martyr was the executioner who was to kill him, but who heard his testimony and was so impressed that he, too, professed the Christian Faith, and refused to kill Alban. The third martyr was the priest, who when he learned that Alban had been arrested in his place, hurried to the court in the hope of saving Alban by turning himself in. The place of their deaths is near the site of St. Alban's Cathedral today.

Almighty God, by whose grace and power thy holy martyr Alban triumphed over suffering and was faithful even unto death: Grant to us, who now remember him with thanksgiving, to be so faithful in our witness to thee in this world, that we may receive with him the crown of life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

The brilliant C. S. Lewis

There are certain writers who are able to distill wisdom into small nuggets. I read these things and think, "I wish I'd said that!" One such writer is C. S. Lewis. He expresses great thoughts so simply that it seems to take me forever to get through some of his works, only because I find myself stopping to think about what just made me nod my head up and down in agreement. Here are only a few of his gems, and you probably have other favourites that you have discovered yourself.

A man can no more diminish God's glory by refusing to worship Him than a lunatic can put out the sun by scribbling the word, 'darkness' on the walls of his cell.

Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.

God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth, only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.

Miracles are a retelling in small letters of the very same story which is written across the whole world in letters too large for some of us to see.

Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith, but they are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the passion of Christ.

There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, "Thy will be done," and those to whom God says, "All right, then, have it your way."

We all want progress, but if you're on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.

C. S. Lewis was, as most people know, an Anglican, although nearly everyone would like to claim him as one of their own. He was born on 29 November 1898, died on 22 November 1963, and possessed one of the great minds of the 20th century. Lewis was a novelist, poet, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, theologian, and Christian apologist. He held academic positions at both Oxford University (Magdalen College), 1925–1954, and Cambridge University (Magdalene College), 1954–1963.

The unanswerable question for many people is, "If he had lived longer, would he have become a Catholic?" Anglicans and other protestants (for obvious reasons) insist he would not have done so. However, I'm quite convinced he would have. When one considers what has happened to protestantism generally (and Anglicanism specifically) since the time of his death, it seems to me that with the incisive and logical mind he had, along with his deep love for God and His Truth, it would have been impossible for him to have remained where he was. I believe it would have become obvious to him that the only logical spiritual home for him must be where so many equally thoughtful men have ended up - in Rome.

17 June 2014

George Herbert: A Brief Life of Love

George Herbert, memorialized in Salisbury Cathedral.

For many years I have had an admiration for George Herbert, an Anglican poet and cleric who died in 1633. My interest in his poetry began when I was a student at the Theological College in Salisbury, England.

It was in the small parish of St. Andrew's, Bemerton, just outside Salisbury that he spent the totality of his very brief three-year ministry. Truly a “country parson,” he was known as “Holy Mr. Herbert” for those three years, so striking was his devotion to God and his dedication to his parish. I felt a connection with him especially during the few years I spent as organist and choirmaster at St. Michael and All Angels, Bemerton Heath, which was a daughter parish of nearby St. Andrew’s.

One of the loveliest hymns we sing is his beautiful poem "Praise.II" set to David Walker’s gorgeous tune, “General Seminary.”

King of glory, King of peace,
I will love thee;
and that love may never cease,
I will move thee.
Thou hast granted my request,
thou hast heard me;
thou didst note my working breast,
thou hast spared me.

Wherefore with my utmost art
I will sing thee,
and the cream of all my heart
I will bring thee.
Though my sins against me cried,
thou didst clear me;
and alone, when they replied,
thou didst hear me.

Seven whole days, not one in seven,
I will praise thee;
in my heart, though not in heaven,
I can raise thee.
Small it is, in this poor sort
to enroll thee:
e'en eternity's too short
to extol thee.

George Herbert was a protestant in his birth and upbringing and thought. His theology included ideas from both Luther and Calvin. But a mystical love for Christ and His sacrificial work weaves a Catholic flavour throughout his writings. His poem “Love.(III)” contains a beautiful reflection on God’s enveloping love, man’s sin and need for repentance, Christ’s forgiveness, and His compelling invitation to the Banquet:

"Love bade me welcome: yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick - eyed Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lacked anything.

'A guest,' I answered, 'worthy to be here':
Love said, 'You shall be he.'
'I, the unkind, ungrateful? Ah, my dear,
I cannot look on thee.'
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
'Who made the eyes but I?'

'Truth, Lord, but I have marred them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve.'
'And know you not,' says Love, 'who bore the blame?'
'My dear, then I will serve.'
'You must sit down,' says Love, 'and taste my meat.'
So I did sit and eat."

I find these words to be hauntingly beautiful. It must be our shared love for God that makes the thoughts of a centuries-old Anglican priest-poet remain fresh for us today.

14 June 2014

The Holy Trinity

It is the foundational belief of every Christian that God is a Trinity of Persons. In fact, that is the very definition of Christianity. It comes to us from our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...” [St. Matthew 28:18-20].

The doctrine of the Trinity is the foundation and the capstone of our faith. It is the guardian of orthodoxy in the Church; it is the essence of effective preaching; it is the guarantor of proper teaching. In fact, the ancient Church accorded so much importance to a correct understanding of the Trinity that the bishops met together to define the Holy Trinity even before they addressed the issue of which books would be included in the New Testament. It is so foundational that we can honestly say that all errors – all heresies – result from the neglect or misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity.

So what does it actually teach us about God?

The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that God is transcendent over the universe. It teaches us that God is in all things; it does not teach us that all things are God, which is incorrect and a heresy. The doctrine of the Trinity teaches us that although God is accessible to all, He is above all and beyond all. He is not some kind of “higher self,” nor is he a “deeper consciousness.” He is not an oracle or a disembodied ghostly spirit. God stands above the universe, even as He pervades it. He exercises His own judgment. He has the right to do as He pleases. The doctrine of the Trinity reveals how God could create the universe, and yet be able to speak and make Himself known within it.

In order for God to create the universe, He must be conscious. Certainly an unconscious being could not undertake a deliberate act. Consciousness requires the ability to contrast between “me” and “not me.” Before the creation of the universe, there was nothing that was not God; therefore a god who is simply one person could never achieve consciousness. Such a god would not be able to create the universe, and could not make himself known nor speak within it.

We can understand something of this idea of “consciousness” in our own human relationships, because we are aware of ourselves through our relationships with others. Our own self-consciousness begins in our relationship with our parents, and the consciousness we have about ourselves develops within the various relationships we have – including our relationship with God. This is why, in those rare cases of feral children – children who have been abandoned and raised in the wild by animals – they have the consciousness of animals. They are, of course, human in that they have souls, but their consciousness is stunted because they have not been able to have a normal relationship with other human beings.

This truth is found supremely in the three Persons of the Holy Trinity, and it shows something of the fact that we are created in God’s image. The three Persons have a relationship of love, forming the “consciousness” of God; indeed, this love is because of the three united states of consciousness. The Persons of the Trinity are completely One in substance, essence, and will, but each Person in the Trinity perceives the others as both “me” and “not me.” This is why we say the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Holy Spirit – and yet, all are God, in a relationship of unity and love. This unity and love means that God is eternally self-conscious and so is capable of deliberate acts.

The doctrine of the Trinity reveals the divine relationship within the Godhead, when we hear Jesus, one Person of the Trinity, calling Himself the Son of another Person of the Trinity, whom He termed His Father, and the third Person, whom He called the Holy Spirit. In this way, He revealed that the relationship among the three Divine Persons is one of perfect love, of mutual submission, and of a unity of will.

The doctrine of the Trinity reveals why God saves us and sustains us and to brings us into His glory. As the three Persons live in a relationship of love, so God wants to bring us into that same relationship of love. And because of that, even though we are made by God, God has infinitely more interest in us than a potter has in the pots he makes. God is not satisfied with displaying the good pots and discarding the defective ones; rather, He keeps them all, because God loves us all. God has a paternal interest in us that goes far beyond the physical making of us. He actually works to save us from the fate of being mere things. God wants to perfect us, so that we can live with Him in His glory. Our destiny is not to exist in some obscure corner as an object, but to live in an eternal fellowship with God, sharing in His divine relationship of love.

The doctrine of the Trinity reveals how God can be transcendent and eternal, and yet how He can enter into time and space in the Person of Jesus Christ. It explains how God can relate to us personally, on our own terms, but without abdicating the operation of the universe.

The doctrine of the Trinity explains how God can be transcendent and eternal, and yet dwell within us and empower us. It explains how God can be in all things, but not of any one thing; it explains why we find God within us, when at the same time He is above us and beyond us. It explains how the Church can be a human institution, and yet at the same time divine; how it can carry out God’s divine Will, even as it demonstrates our imperfections.

The doctrine of the Trinity explains how a priest can fruitfully celebrate the sacraments and preach the Word in spite of his personal sinfulness, a reminder that God communicates His wisdom through foolish men.

Try as we might to fully understand and explain, the reality of the Trinity is imperfectly expressed in any and all human terms. For example, we sometimes hear from the “politically correct” a reference to the Trinity as “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer,” but that does not describe the essence of the Trinity as it is revealed by Jesus, the incarnate God. Those terms tell us what God does, but it does not tell us who He is. To ascribe only one function to a particular Person of the Trinity leads to heresy.

We can ask, who is the Creator? Is it the Father who spoke the eternal Word, or is it the Word through whom all things were made, or is it the Spirit who moved upon the waters? The answer is: all three. We cannot divide God.

We can ask, who is the Redeemer? Is it the Father who sent the Son, or is it the Son who died and rose again, or is it the Spirit who gives us faith and repentance? The answer is: all three. We cannot divide God.

We can ask, who is the Sustainer? Is it the Father who supplies our needs, or is it the Son who advocates our cause, or is it the Spirit who dwells within us? The answer is: all three. We cannot divide God.

Why should the Creator take an interest in His creation? Why does the Redeemer save us? Why should the Sustainer preserve us beyond mere physical existence? This faulty human formula invented by those who wish to avoid the traditional terms because they judge words such as “Father” and “Son” as being not inclusive, does nothing other than reveal some of the functions of God. It does not describe His divine nature, or His divine motivation, or His eternal plan. It does not reveal God’s love, nor does it explain whether or why God transforms us into whom He intends us to be. In fact, the more people try to be “politically correct” when referring to God, the more their efforts remain “this-worldly,” with no hope for anything beyond the here-and-now.

Therefore, it is necessary for us to proclaim that God is the Father of Mary’s baby; and that God is that baby, the Son of Mary; and that God is the Spirit who conceived that baby in Mary’s virgin womb. Those are facts of history, and in those facts we find that God is love.

Perhaps after all the philosophy, and after all the formulae, and after all the wondering about how three can be one, and one can be three, perhaps this best explains the Holy Trinity: God, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, loves us, and adopts us, and makes us His witnesses in this world. And why? So that we can know Him, and be in a relationship of love with Him, and live with Him eternally in Heaven.

Almighty and everlasting God, who hast given unto us thy servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of the Divine Majesty to worship the Unity: We beseech thee that thou wouldest keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see thee in thy one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit livest and reignest, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

09 June 2014

St. Ephrem, Deacon and Doctor

St. Ephrem was born sometime around the year 306 in Nibisis, a Syrian town located in modern-day Turkey, during the time when the Church was suffering under the persecution of the Roman Emperor Diocletian. Baptized at about the age of eighteen, Ephrem was ordained as a deacon, and was a prolific writer of hymns, through which he powerfully preached the Gospel.

He wrote frequently in praise of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and he gave us this prayer to honour Our Lady, the Mother of God:

O pure and immaculate and likewise blessed Virgin, who art the sinless Mother of thy Son, the mighty Lord of the universe, thou who art inviolate and altogether holy, the hope of the hopeless and sinful, we sing thy praises. We bless thee, as full of every grace, thou who didst bear the God-Man: we all bow low before thee; we invoke thee and implore thine aid. Rescue us, O holy and inviolate Virgin, from every necessity that presses upon us and from all the temptations of the devil. Be our intercessor and advocate at the hour of death and judgment; deliver us from the fire that is not extinguished and from the outer darkness; make us worthy of the glory of thy Son, O dearest and most clement Virgin Mother. Thou indeed art our only hope, most sure and sacred in God's sight, to whom be honor and glory, majesty and dominion forever and ever world without end. Amen.

In a 2007 General Audience on St. Ephrem’s life, Pope Benedict XVI said that St. Ephrem became known as the “Harp of the Holy Spirit” for the hymns and writings of his that sang the praises of God “in an unparalleled way” and “with rare skill.”

O God, who didst will to illumine thy Church with the wondrous learning and splendid merits of blessed Ephrem, thy Confessor and Doctor: we humbly beseech thee, at his intercession; that thou wouldest ever defend her by thy continual power against the snares of error and wickedness; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

08 June 2014

Solemnity of Pentecost

O GOD, who as at this time didst teach the hearts of thy faithful people, by sending to them the light of thy Holy Spirit; Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

07 June 2014

Faith, Hope, and Charity

The Great East Window at Our Lady of the Atonement Church

06 June 2014

General Eisenhower's D-Day Speech

St. Norbert

Excerpted from The Church's Year of Grace by Pius Parsch:

Although a cleric, Norbert led a very worldly life for a number of years. The decisive change took place suddenly in 1115. While riding one day, he was overtaken by a thunderstorm. A flash of lightning struck the ground before him, the horse threw him, and he seemed to hear a voice upbraiding him for his conduct.

As in the case of St. Paul, the experience wrought a complete transformation. Norbert decided to give away his property and income rights, and to lead a life of abnegation, devoting himself particularly to preaching. In 1120 he founded the Order of Premonstratensians (the first monastery was at Premontre) according to the rule of St. Augustine; approval came from Pope Honorius II in 1126.

In 1125, he was named archbishop of Magdeburg. On July 13, 1126, Norbert entered the city and came barefoot to the cathedral. About to enter the archepiscopal palace, he was refused admission by the porter, who failed to recognize a bishop so poorly dressed. "You know me better and see me with clearer eyes than those who are forcing me to this palace. Poor and wretched man that I am, I should never have been assigned to this place," Norbert answered when the porter later sought his pardon.

O God, who didst make blessed Norbert thy Confessor and Bishop an illustrious preacher of thy Word, and through him didst render thy Church fruitful with a new offspring: grant, we beseech thee; that by his intercession and merits, we may be enabled by thy help to practise what he taught, both in word and deed; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

03 June 2014

The Month of the Sacred Heart

On 15 May 1956 the Venerable Pope Pius XII issued his encyclical on devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Hauerietis Aquas, and here is a brief excerpt from it:
…the Heart of the Incarnate Word is deservedly and rightly considered the chief sign and symbol of that threefold love with which the divine Redeemer unceasingly loves His eternal Father and all mankind.It is a symbol of that divine love which He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit but which He, the Word made flesh, alone manifests through a weak and perishable body, since "in Him dwells the fullness of the Godhead bodily." It is, besides, the symbol of that burning love which, infused into His soul, enriches the human will of Christ and enlightens and governs its acts by the most perfect knowledge derived both from the beatific vision and that which is directly infused.And finally—and this in a more natural and direct way—it is the symbol also of sensible love, since the body of Jesus Christ, formed by the Holy Spirit, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, possesses full powers of feelings and perception, in fact, more so than any other human body.

Traditionally, the month of June is dedicated to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

O God, who hast suffered the Heart of thy Son to be wounded by our sins, and in that very Heart hast bestowed on us the abundant riches of thy love; grant that the devout homage of our hearts which we render unto him may of thy mercy be deemed a recompence, acceptable in thy sight; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.

02 June 2014

St. Charles Lwanga & Companions

Charles was one of twenty-two Ugandan martyrs who converted from paganism. He was baptized November 1885, a year before his death, and became a moral leader. He was the chief of the royal pages under the king, Mwanga, and was considered the strongest athlete of the court. Mwanga was a wicked and immoral king, and very violent. Charles was a catechist, and instructed the young men who were serving in the king's court in the Catholic Faith and he baptized them. He inspired and encouraged his companions to remain chaste and faithful.

Mwanga was a superstitious pagan king who originally was tolerant of Catholicism. However, his chief assistant, Katikiro, slowly convinced him that Christians were a threat to his rule. He convinced the king that if these Christians would not bow to him, nor make sacrifices to their pagan god, nor pillage, massacre, nor make war, what would happen if his whole kingdom converted to Catholicism?

When Charles was sentenced to death, he seemed very peaceful, even cheerful. He was to be executed by being burned to death. While the pyre was being prepared, he asked to be untied so that he could arrange the sticks. He then lay down upon them. When the executioner said that Charles would be burned slowly to death, Charles replied by saying that he was very glad to be dying for the True Faith. He made no cry of pain but just twisted and moaned, "Kotanda! (O my God!)." He was burned to death by Mwanga's order on June 3, 1886. The other young men were martyred in various ways, and together they were canonized by the Church.

O God, by whose providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant that we who remember before thee the blessed martyrs of Uganda, St. Charles Lwanga and his Companions, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience even unto death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.