31 August 2014

The path to eternal life...

"If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it."

30 August 2014

Remember September...

When September arrives it always reminds me of beginning my theological studies in Salisbury, England, when JoAnn and I arrived in 1973, knowing no one, getting used to living in a foreign country, and having a great time figuring out the language. It was English, but unlike anything I’d heard before. My fellow students were from all over England and Ireland, and the variety of dialects at first presented something of a challenge to understand.

Pictured above is what was the Salisbury & Wells Theological College. It’s now become something called the “Sarum College,” and it appears that now you can go there for conferences, retreats, ecumenical studies, etc., but it’s no longer an actual theological college. The building itself is wonderful. The main building was designed by Sir Christopher Wren, and was built in 1677. It has a marvelous sweeping staircase as a feature of the dignified entrance hall. The College Chapel (along with the dormitory wing) was designed by William Butterfield and built in the 1870’s. Dormitories stretched out towards the back, and they were interesting in that there was a repeating arrangement of a small room and then a few large rooms. This was a hold-over from the days when the young gentlemen students would have men-servants to see to their needs. By the time I was there, each room was a student’s room, and the lucky ones got the bigger rooms.

I didn’t have to contend with that, however. As a married student I was able to find a flat nearby, and we lived in what had been the servants’ quarters on the top floor of the archdeacon’s house. Number 23, The Close, was our address. How well I remember it, with a fabulous view of the north side of the majestic Cathedral Church of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

I did manage to get one of the smaller rooms at the College which I used as a study, and it turned into something of a meeting place for many of us.  It came to be known as "the grotto" because of the rather nice Marian shrine I had there, plus the perpetual "churchy" fragrance which was the result of my keeping a few grains of incense on the bulb in my desk lamp.  We had what we considered at the time to be elevated discussions about theology, the pitiful state of the Anglican Communion, and how it would all be different when we were ordained and could be out in our future parishes - each one of which would undoubtedly become a model of Anglo-catholic worship, excellent preaching, and faultless pastoral care. Needless to say, things didn't work out as we expected, although in my case it turned out even better.

As the song says, "Try to remember the kind of September when life was slow and oh so mellow..."

28 August 2014

Our Deacons' Anniversary Day

August 29th 2014 is the seventeenth anniversary of the ordination of our two deacons, Dn. Michael D'Agostino and Dn. James Orr, and we give thanks to God for their faithful witness and ministry.

ALMIGHTY God, who by thy divine providence hast appointed divers Orders of Ministers in thy Church, and didst inspire thine Apostles to choose into the Order of Deacons the first Martyr Saint Stephen, with others; Mercifully behold these thy servants called to the like Office and Administration: so replenish them with the truth of thy Doctrine, and adorn them with innocency of life, that, both by word and good example, they may faithfully serve thee in this Office, to the glory of thy Name, and the edification of thy Church; through the merits of our Saviour Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and for ever. Amen.

27 August 2014

Almighty God, Majestic King

Almighty God, majestic King,
with joyful hearts thy people sing: Alleluia, alleluia.
For all good gifts we offer praise,
and ask thy blessings all our days:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Lord Jesus Christ, Eternal Son,
who on the cross salvation won: Alleluia, alleluia;
through thy great sacrifice of love
we join our song with saints above:
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

O Holy Spirit, Light divine,
dwell in these hearts and souls of thine: Alleluia, alleluia.
Keep us in peace and unity
that with one voice our chant may be,
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Text: Fr. Christopher G. Phillips, 1996
Music: LASST UNS ERFREUEN, from Geistliche Kirchengesang, 1623

26 August 2014

St. Monica, Widow and Confessor

The circumstances of St. Monica's life could have made her a nagging wife, a bitter daughter-in-law and a despairing parent, yet she did not give way to any of those temptations. Although she was a Christian, her parents gave her in marriage to a pagan, Patricius, who lived in her hometown of Tagaste in North Africa. Patricius had some redeeming features, but he had a violent temper and lived an immoral life. Monica also had to put up with an ill-tempered mother-in-law who lived in her home. Patricius constantly criticized his wife because of her charity and piety, but he always respected her. Monica's prayers and example finally won her husband and mother-in-law over to Christianity. Her husband died in 371, one year after his Baptism.

Monica had at least three children who survived infancy. The oldest, Augustine, is the most famous. At the time of his father's death, Augustine was 17 and a student of rhetoric in Carthage. Monica was distressed to learn that her son had accepted the Manichean heresy – which was a combination of gnostic Christianity, Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and various other elements, with the basic doctrine of a conflict between light and dark, with matter (physical things) being regarded as dark and evil. At this point, Augustine was living an immoral life. For a while, Monica refused to let him eat or sleep in her house. Then one night she had a vision that assured her Augustine would return to the faith. From that time on she stayed close to her son, praying and fasting for him. In fact, she often stayed much closer than Augustine wanted.

When he was 29, Augustine decided to go to Rome to teach rhetoric. Monica was determined to go along. One night he told his mother that he was going to the dock to say goodbye to a friend. Instead, he set sail for Rome. Monica was heartbroken when she learned of Augustine's trick, but she still followed him. She arrived in Rome only to find that he had left for Milan. Although travel was difficult, Monica pursued him to Milan.

In Milan Augustine came under the influence of the bishop, St. Ambrose, who also became Monica's spiritual director. She accepted his advice in everything and had the humility to give up some practices that had become second nature to her. Monica became a leader of the devout women in Milan, as she had been in Tagaste.

She continued her prayers for Augustine during his years of instruction. At Easter, 387, St. Ambrose baptized Augustine and several of his friends. Soon after, his party left for Africa. Although no one else was aware of it, Monica knew her life was nearing the end. She told Augustine, "Son, nothing in this world now affords me delight. I do not know what there is now left for me to do or why I am still here, all my hopes in this world being now fulfilled." She became ill shortly after and suffered severely for nine days before her death.

O Lord, who through spiritual discipline didst strengthen thy servant St. Monica to persevere in offering her love and prayers and tears for the conversion of her husband and of Augustine their son: Deepen our devotion, we beseech thee, and use us in accordance with thy will to bring others, even our own kindred, to acknowledge Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord; who with thee and the Holy Spirit liveth and reigneth, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

A Prayer to the Blessed Mother

O Holy Mary, blessed Mother of my God, who dost bear in thine arms He Who is the sacrifice for my sins, and Who rested His head upon thy breast; pray for me, that as thou didst hold Him in His death, so He may hold me in the hour of my death in His everlasting arms.  Amen.

23 August 2014

St. Bartholomew, Apostle

In St. John's Gospel, Bartholomew (son of Tolomai) is known by the name Nathaniel.  His home was Cana in Galilee, where the miraculous turning of water into wine took place, and he was one of the first disciples called by the Lord Jesus. It was of Bartholomew that Christ said, "Behold, an Israelite indeed in whom there is no guile!" After the Resurrection of our Lord, he was blessed by being one of the few apostles who witnessed the appearance of the risen Saviour on the sea of Galilee (John 21:2). Following the Ascension the tradition is that he preached the Gospel in Greater Armenia, and it was there that he was martyred by being flayed, which means that while he was still alive, his skin was torn from his body. The Armenians honor him as the apostle of their nation. His relics were brought eventually to Rome to a small island in the middle of the Tiber, where there is a basilica and hospital.

O Almighty and everlasting God, who didst give to thine apostle St. Bartholomew grace truly to believe and to preach thy Word: Grant, we beseech thee, unto thy Church to love what he believed and to preach what he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

21 August 2014

Mass at the Academy

This Mass was recorded on the Memorial of Pope St. Pius X.  The Academy Honors Choir provides music.

18 August 2014

The view from inside...

There is a mystery to stained glass.  When one views it during the day from outside, it appears to be nothing but darkness.  There is no beauty, no riot of color, no apparent reason for its existence.  But step inside, and what was darkness becomes a thing of beauty and meaning.  Mysteries of the faith are brought to life through the artisan's craft.  Things are seen that never could have been imagined when standing outside. 

This makes for an apt illustration of the Church itself.  To remain outside is to be cheated of so much of the beauty of what Christ has done for us, and to miss the fullness of the truth He teaches.  Just as natural light, when filtered through stained glass, becomes a thing of immense beauty, so when the Light of Christ is perceived through that "window" of His own creation -- the Church -- we come to know things that only the angels could have imagined.

15 August 2014

Lifted up with Mary...

There is a beautiful story about Pope St. John XXIII, who was once recalling his earliest childhood memory. He tells of being a four-year old boy, and of how his family had gone to Mass for the one of the feasts of the Blessed Virgin. When they arrived, the church was overflowing with people, and being just a little boy, he was not able to see the ceremonies or venerate the image of the Blessed Mother.

Seventy-seven years later when he was reminiscing, Pope St. John XXIII recalled it in this way: “My only chance of seeing the image of the Madonna was through one of the two windows of the main entrance, which were very high and covered with an iron grating. Then my mother raised me up in her arms and said, “Look, Angelo, look how lovely the Madonna is – I consecrate you entirely to her!”

The Assumption of the Blessed Mother is something like that: Mary our Mother lifts us up. She lifts us up, and she lifts our cares and our concerns, all up to her Divine Son. She lifts us up in her Immaculate Heart so that we can catch a glimpse of the glory that will be ours in heaven.

A man who knew how to be king...

King Stephen, is a great national hero and the spiritual patron of Hungary – but he was, first of all, a devout Christian. We think of kings as being heads of state, great military leaders, commanders of armies and rulers over people, and he was all that, but Stephen did all those things in the light of his Christian faith, and made his decisions in accordance with the teaching of the Church.

During his early childhood he was pagan, but he was baptized around the age of 10, together with his father, who was the chief of the Magyar people. This was a group who migrated to the Danube area a little over a hundred years before. When young Stephen was 20 years old, he married Gisela, who was from a powerful and influential family. After the death of his father, Stephen became the leader of his people, and did all he could to turn his people into a Christian people. He put down a series of revolts by pagan nobles and through the banishment of paganism, and the establishment of the Church, Stephen made the Magyars into a strong national group. He asked the pope to send more clergy so that the Church could become more organized throughout Hungary, and he also made the request that the pope confer the title of king upon him – not because he wanted the honor for himself, but because he knew his people needed the dignity of being ruled by a Christian king, rather than just a leader with no title. He was crowned on Christmas day in 1001.

Stephen established a system of support for the local churches and priests, and he worked very hard to bring people out of poverty. Out of every 10 towns, one had to build a church and support a priest. He abolished pagan customs, and urged all his subjects to marry, except clergy and religious, because he knew that strong families make a strong society. He was easily accessible to all, especially the poor.

He had hoped that his son Emeric would succeed him as king, but in 1031 Emeric died, and the rest of King Stephen’s days were made very difficult by controversy over who should succeed him as king. His pagan nephews even attempted to kill him. King St. Stephen died in 1038. As he was dying, with his right hand he raised up the Holy Crown of Hungary, and prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking her to take the Hungarian people as her subjects and to become their queen. After his death, people made pilgrimages to his tomb, where many miracles were recorded, and soon he was canonized – the first king to be venerated as a confessor and saint of the Church.

O God, who didst call thy servant St. Stephen of Hungary to an earthly throne that he might advance thy heavenly kingdom, and didst give him zeal for thy Church and love for thy people: Mercifully grant that we who commemorate him this day may be fruitful in good works, and attain to the glorious crown of thy saints; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


The Crown of St. Stephen.

A holy place, set apart...

The consecration crosses are illuminated on this day, the twenty-seventh anniversary of the Dedication, setting the church apart as a holy place.

Our particular crosses are hand-made using wood which came from Wadowice, Poland, the birthplace of Pope St. John Paul II.

14 August 2014

In honour of the Assumption...

On the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, my mind wanders back to my days as a student in the Anglican Theological College of Salisbury & Wells, which was located in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. The reason for remembering those days in the early 1970's is because the glorious cathedral there is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and a fact unknown to most people, it was originally under the title of her glorious Assumption into heaven.

Scarcely a day went by that I didn't go into the cathedral for some purpose or other. The Theological College was mere yards away from it, and the cathedral dominated our lives. Whenever we could get away from college activities at 3:00 p.m., we knew there would always be Cathedral Evensong, done in the best English tradition. I was privileged to serve occasionally as organist on the great Willis organ. During the summer I would help out as a cathedral guide when the crowds of tourists would descend. A question once posed to me came from a large American man clad in bermuda shorts and a loud sports shirt, who asked in all seriousness, "Is this place open on Sundays?" I assured him it was.

I have so many happy and fond memories of my student days in that beautiful place. But they have become a little bittersweet, now that I am a Catholic. This architectural marvel (begun in 1220 and completed in 1258) was designed and built by Catholics. They dedicated it to Our Lady -- their Lady -- out of love for her, and to honour her Assumption. Approximately seventy years after the building was completed, they began to construct the magnificent spire, rising up 404 feet, as a testimony to their faith in God.  It was a monument pointing to heaven, and in the very top of the spire they placed a relic, a piece of cloth with which the Blessed Virgin had girded herself during her earthly life.

Every stone placed lovingly one on another spoke of the faith of those who had done it -- and that faith was the Catholic faith, the faith which found its fullness by being in communion with the Vicar of Christ, the Successor of St. Peter. I never thought of that while I was there, but I have many times since, and it reasserted itself when I visited last year.

So I pray. I pray for the return of this shrine to the Church of those who built it, and so many others throughout England, which was once a country with such devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary that it was known as "Our Lady's Dowry."

12 August 2014

So many anniversaries at once!

On Friday, August 15th, the Church celebrates the Solemnity of the Assumption of Our Lady into Heaven. Not only is it a day to honor the Blessed Virgin, but it is also for us here a day of anniversaries:

- the thirty-first anniversary of the canonical erection of the parish;

- the thirty-first anniversary of my ordination to the Sacred Priesthood and appointment as pastor of this parish;

- the twenty-seventh anniversary of the blessing of the high altar and the dedication of the church;

- the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the Academy;

- the eighth anniversary of the blessing of the expanded church building.

There are so many blessings which have come to us. We’re grateful to Our Lady of the Atonement for her constant intercession – and we give thanks to God for His abundant blessings!

09 August 2014

St. Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr

Saint Lawrence was one of seven deacons in Rome in charge of giving help to the poor and the needy. In fact, during the first centuries of the Church, the number of deacons for any bishop was limited to seven, following the precedent of Jerusalem.  It was said of Lawrence that he was to Rome, what Stephen was to Jerusalem.

When a persecution broke out, Pope St. Sixtus was condemned to death. As he was led to execution, Lawrence followed him weeping, "Father, where are you going without your deacon?" he said. "I am not leaving you, my son," answered the Pope. "in three days you will follow me." Full of joy, Lawrence gave to the poor the rest of the money he had on hand and even sold expensive vessels to have more to give away.

The Prefect of Rome, a greedy pagan, thought the Church had a great fortune hidden away. So he ordered Lawrence to bring the Church's treasure to him. The Saint said he would, in three days. Then he went through the city and gathered together all the poor and sick people supported by the Church. When he showed them to the Prefect, he said: "This is the Church's treasure!"

In great anger, the Prefect condemned Lawrence to a slow, cruel death. The Saint was tied on top of an iron grill over a slow fire that roasted his flesh little by little, but Lawrence was burning with so much love of God that he almost did not feel the flames. In fact, God gave him so much strength and joy that he even joked. "Turn me over," he said to the judge. "I'm done on this side!" And just before he died, he said, "It's cooked enough now." Then he prayed that the city of Rome might be converted to Jesus and that the Catholic Faith might spread all over the world. After that, he went to receive the martyr's reward. Saint Lawrence's feast day is August 10th.

Almighty God, who didst call thy deacon St. Lawrence to serve thee with deeds of love, and didst give him the crown of martyrdom: Grant we beseech thee, that we, following his example, may fulfill thy commandments by defending and supporting the poor, and by loving thee with all our hearts; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

The Holy Deacon Lawrence before the Emperor Valerius.

The grill on which St. Lawrence was martyred.

The stone on which the body of St. Lawrence was laid after his martyrdom.

03 August 2014

The importance of the pulpit...

I've long thought that one of the more elegant pieces of ecclesiastical furniture is a well-made pulpit.  Of course, living as we do in the age of Fr. Bob Polyester wandering the aisles with a cordless microphone, it's made the grand pulpits of yesteryear into something quite unfamiliar to many people.  In fact, I've had visitors to the church point and ask what it is.

When we built the church I looked long and hard for someone capable of building a fine pulpit, and was delighted to have been successful in my search.  I remember asking if he could build a wineglass pulpit, and he said that if I'd tell him what it is, he'd try.  I drew a rough sketch on a scrap of paper, and I think the result is very pleasing indeed.

The preacher climbs seven steps, passing a small statue of St. John Vianney midway, and stands beneath a traditional sounding-board.  I find that a formal pulpit such as ours accomplishes a couple of things.  First, it reminds the preacher that he's doing something important; that it's not enough to throw together a few random thoughts, and call it a sermon.  Second, it reminds the congregation that they're hearing something important; namely, the exposition of Holy Scripture and an elucidation of the Catholic Faith.

Our pulpit is in the traditional location, outside the altar rail and on the Gospel side of the nave.  In this way, what Christ did, and what the Church continues to do, is shown by symbol: the Gospel is to be taken to the people and preached in the midst of them.

Here are some pictures of the pulpit at Our Lady of the Atonement Church.  The shape is called "wineglass" for obvious reasons, and there are many examples of this style throughout Europe dating back several hundred years.

02 August 2014

Pray for priests...

As we approach the feast day of St. John Vianney, the Patron of priests, pray not just generally, but pray specifically for particular priests by name. Here's a brief prayer to help you:

O Lord Jesus Christ, great High Priest and gracious Shepherd; bless thy servant N., whom thou hast consecrated to minister unto thee in holy things; and grant him such purity of heart and life, and such zeal for souls, that he may bring many into union with thee, and fulfill his ministry in holiness to thy glory, our Lord and Saviour; who livest and reignest in the unity of the Father and the Holy Ghost ever, one God, world without end. Amen.