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“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

Today is the Autumnal Ember Friday, one of three Ember Days this week.  St. Matthew’s feast takes precedence, but the two have something essential in common.

Ember Days are days of fasting and abstinence, a special little time spaced every quarter year devoted to fasting and praying for the Sacred Ministry.  As early as the Fifth Century, a pope preached a series of sermons on the Ember Days, and ordinations were preferentially done on them.  The Book of Common Prayer includes them still, even though the Church of Rome, in her usual manner, has transformed them into something entirely unrecognizable.

This is the collect given in the Book of Common Prayer for all Ember Days:

O ALMIGHTY God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We read in the Acts of the Apostles (xiii.47-49):

For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth.  And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.  And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region.

The Sacred Ministry serves as Christ’s Sacramental, teaching, and governing ministers participating in His ultimate ministry of reconciling God and Man.  So we teach and preach the Holy Scriptures.  We act in Christ’s stead in feeding His people with His Body and Blood.  We forgive your sins in His Name.  We witness marriages as He did at the wedding in Cana.

Priests have the cure of souls.  My favorite saints, a parish priest, is often called by his position and title, the Cure d’Ars.  Some priests hold positions called curacies and are called curates.  Our ministry, our Sacred Ministry, is nothing without Christ, His calling of disciples, and His curing of both our ailments and our fundamental illness, sin.

Saint Matthew, whose feast we celebrate today, was a Jewish tax collector for the Romans.  The Romans did not have an internal revenue service.  They farmed out the taxes to disreputable and tough men who would coerce locals to pay, and for which service they took a percentage.  No wonder the Pharisees found Matthew, also named Levi, and his associates unclean!  All decent Jews in Judaea would find them objectionable.

But, we read today’s Gospel and find Christ saying that

They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick.  But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice:  for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

In his Gospel, St. Matthew wrote (xviii.12-14):

How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?  And if so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.  Even so it is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish.

Think upon the author of the First Gospel.  Reflect upon Christ calling him as he sat taking money from his fellows.  See how Jesus called out to him, “Follow me”, and watch as Matthew gets up, leaves all behind, and follows his Lord, our Lord.

Christ calls us all to Him.  Pray for those whom the Lord has called to assist Him in His labor of love amongst us.  And St. Matthew:  Pray for us.

 

“For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.  For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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Let us love our Lord God, let us love His Church: Him as a Father, Her as a Mother: Him as a Lord, Her as His Handmaid, as we are ourselves the Handmaid’s sons. But this marriage is held together by a bond of great love: no man offends the one, and wins favour of the other. Let no man say, “I go indeed to the idols, I consult possessed ones and fortune-tellers: yet I abandon not God’s Church; I am a Catholic.” While thou holdest to thy Mother, thou hast offended thy Father. Another says, Far be it from me; I consult no sorcerer, I seek out no possessed one, I never ask advice by sacrilegious divination, I go not to worship idols, I bow not before stones; though I am in the party of Donatus. What does it profit you not to have offended your Father, if he avenges your offended Mother? what does it serve you, if you acknowledge the Lord, honour God, preach His name, acknowledge His Son, confess that He sitteth by His right hand; while you blaspheme His Church?

St. Augustine, exposition of Psalm lxxxix

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From the 24th chapter of The Wisdom of Jesus the son of Sirach, or Ecclesiasticus:

“With all these I sought rest: and in whose inheritance shall I abide?  So the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and he that made me caused my tabernacle to rest….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

We teach what Holy Church teaches whilst we only hold that doctrines provable from Scripture are necessary for salvation.  Holy Church has taught for at least fifteen centuries that our Lady was carried off into Heaven upon her death.  Believing this, too, is not considered necessary for salvation, but it makes a great deal of sense and has been taught by Holy Church.

St. John of Damascus preached:

This day the Ark of the living God even the holy and living Ark, wherein once its own Maker had been held, is borne to its resting place in that Temple of the Lord which is not made with hands.

This day the spotless Virgin, who had been defiled by no earthly lust, but rather was enobled by heavenly desires, died only to live without returning to dust.  For being a living heaven, she took her place today among the heavenly mansions.

This is the great lesson of the Feast of the Assumption.  Our place is with God.  The one person who was not also God who set the most excellent example of obedience and devotion is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  God calls us to him.  Christ has opened Heaven to all believers.  St. Stephen the Proto-Martyr followed thereafter by dying for his faith in Christ.  Made regenerate in Holy Baptism, nurtured in the Blessed Sacrament, and living lives of love and obedience, we will live with God forever.

He Who condescended to be born of the Blessed Virgin is “the only-begotten Son of God; Begotten of his Father before all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God; Begotten, not made; Being of one substance with the Father;”  Her son, the son she bore in Bethlehem, is the Son of God.  To protect against the Arian and other heretics who denied that Christ was God, Holy Church for ages has called the Blessed Virgin Mary the Theotokos, or Bearer of God.  The Latin and English appellations Mater Dei and Mother of God are not exactly similar in meaning, but they cannot be denied without doubting our Lord’s divinity.

The Virgin’s motherhood is imminently human.  She was and remains fully human.  Her carrying, bearing, nurturing, and loving her Son is deeply human.  Her motherhood is of her human nature.  Christ has two natures, the one from His Father, and the other from His mother.  Both are necessary for Christ to be one Person, both human and divine.

But when we speak to St. Mary, we speak to her as a saint in her own right.  Her authority over her Son ended when He came of age two thousand years ago.  The tender bonds of love between mother and child no doubt still carry on for them, but her sanctity was won by the merits of Christ in His life, death, and Resurrection, just like they are for the rest of us.  Yet we may still ask for her prayers, for as we read in St. James’ Epistle, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

If the power of a soul’s prayer depends upon her relationship with God, her participation in the divine worship of Heaven, and her increase in grace upon grace, then we may very well think that the prayers of the Blessed Mother are more effectual than those of other saints.  She is the exemplar of the faithful human soul’s loving giving of herself to God.  We read in St. Luke (xi.27-28):

And it came to pass, as he spake these things, a certain woman of the company lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the paps which thou hast sucked.  But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.

The Blessed Virgin is not the preëminent of saints because she is Christ’s mama.  She is the preëminent example of faithfulness and grace amongst all men.  Likewise, she possesses a purity and innocence exceeding all others.  St. John Chrysostom preached:

… If her kinship in itself could have profited Mary, it would also have profited the Jews, . . .  Yet, as long as his brethren cared only for their own interests, their relationship to Christ profited them nothing, but they were condemned with the rest of the world.

She is the greatest of saints because she shows us the fullness of the sanctified response of the soul of man to our loving and holy God:  “My soul doth magnify the Lord….”

We cannot give her too much respect and honor, so long as we remember that worship alone belongs to God.  We do well to remember that her holiness is the reflection of the burning and brilliant divinity rather than of herself.  So it is that by honoring her, we honor her Son, Whose grace alone made her this mirror of perfection.

The highest honor paid to our Lady is only dangerous when confused with the worship given only to our Lord.  The Seventeenth-Century Bishop of Chester, John Pearson, wrote:

We cannot bear too revered a regard unto the ‘Mother of our Lord,’ so long as we give her not that worship which is due unto the Lord Himself . . . .  Let her be honored and esteemed, let Him be worshipped and adored.

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin is more pious and ancient belief than article of faith.  But we know that when we die, Christ judges us, and if invited, we go to Heaven.  That our Lady died and went to Heaven is undeniable.  How and when she went to Heaven can be argued.  The Assumption highly honors our Lady and ought greatly to inspire us.  We, too, ought to increase in Christ, die in Christ, and then live with Him forever!

 

“With all these I sought rest: and in whose inheritance shall I abide?  So the Creator of all things gave me a commandment, and he that made me caused my tabernacle to rest….”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

I read an anonymous quote this week which seemed appropriate to share with you this Sunday, the fourth of the Four Last Things, Hell:  “Everyone will live forever. Not everyone will enjoy it.”

 

Satan hates us so very much.  For all the rebellion and hatred he bears to God, he cannot hurt God directly, for God is all powerful.  Even when he thought he could hurt Christ, he could not tempt Him into sin.  He could not break Christ on the Cross.  Instead, Christ broke the power of Satan and Hell on the Cross.

However, Satan can hurt God’s creatures.  Unlike the angels, we men are made in the image of God.  Satan seeks to destroy us like a ravening lion. So when Old Scratch and his demons get their filthy claws on us in Hell, they torture for all eternity.

Both man and angel are created, are designed, are built to bask in the presence of the great giver of life, the Lord God Almighty.  As much as man and angel may hate God and seek to flee from his presence, so both are horribly distressed by great longing for God.  That impure corrupted longing turned long ago into distorted loathing and hatred and contempt for the erstwhile object of love.

As Fr. Von Cochem says about the Devil:

Of all the fallen spirits, not one is so abominable as the chief of all, the haughty Lucifer, whose cruelty, malice and spite render him an object of dread not merely to the damned, but also to the devils subject to him. This Lucifer is called by various names in Holy Scriptures, all indicating his malignity. On account of his repulsiveness he is called a dragon; on account of his ferocity, a lion; on account of his malice, the old serpent; on account of his deceitfulness, the father of lies; on account of his haughtiness, king over all the children of pride; and on account of his great power and might, the prince of this world.

The other devils and demons are fallen angels who are not as mighty or created as perfectly good as Lucifer, and therefore are not so evil and ugly as him.  Just as men often in Scripture behold angels and attempt to worship them because of their beauty and goodness, so we would hardly be able to abide the presence of demons in their unhidden form because of their ugliness and wickedness.  That we can scarcely contemplate how miserable in appearance devils are is why they are often portrayed in a gruesome and grotesque manner.

Immediately after making my confession on retreat at Holy Spirit monastery in Conyers, I was visited in a nightmare by a creature so horrible in countenance that I could only barely describe it.  I was immensely terrified and would have been frightened away from spiritual matters entirely – thus acquiescing to the damning of my soul – were I not fortified in the Holy Sacraments and prayer.  The Sacraments are the grace of God the Son and prayer is ultimately of God the Father – when mediated by God the Holy Ghost, we are invincible to all demonic spiritual attack.

Hell is the place reserved for Satan, his demons, and cursed men.  It is a place of everlasting fire.  St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”  Hell is real and everlasting, as is Heaven.  The wicked and damned go to Hell forever, and the righteous and saved go to Heaven forever.  St. Matthew xxv.46:  “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”

The Roman Christians in antiquity would stand prayerfully together as they would be mauled to death by wild animals in the Coliseum.  They could die heroically at peace in our Lord while vicious beasts, deranged by hunger, would pounce upon them, pull them down, and tear their flesh with fang and claw.  They could die this way because they had victory in Christ and knew that Hell had worse to offer.  Think upon that, dear souls!  How ruthlessly did the lions rip into their flesh!  Would the angry hungry evil angels be more merciful than a brutalized innocent animal?  Our brethren knew that the feasting of demons upon their Resurrection bodies would go on for eternity – and the demons would never eat their fill or satisfy their lust for flesh.

Oftentimes I have heard that the company would be better in Hell than in Heaven, as if Hell would be some great party that would never end.  Perhaps the companionship would not be near as boring as would be the squares in Heaven.  But loving-kindness is entirely missing in Hell.  There is no camaraderie amongst the damned.  Hell is the realm where all are embittered against each other, mocking and cursing with enmity for all.

 

St. Mark ix.43-4

And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:  Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Christ says this not to injure our bodies.  Sin does not work in our hands and feet and eyes.  Sin works in our hearts.  But indeed we should be counted among the blessed if we were to lose our hands and feet and eyes in this world and flourish in Heaven above for all eternity!  The holy martyrs certainly thought so.  St. Lawrence the Deacon was roasted alive.  Yet knowing that Christ was his redeemer, he famously said to his executioners to turn him over, for this side was done!  How could he be so bold as he died a death of torture?  Because His savior lived!  And St. Lawrence was about to join Him in Heaven.  Truly the slings and insults of this world are nothing compared to the agonies of Hell.

So Christ says it is better to cut off your own body parts and live maimed than to go to Hell intact.  And three times here in St. Mark’s Gospel Christ tells us why:  “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The filthy, rotten, tormenting, grotesque demons of Hell do not die in Hellfire.  They gnaw on your soul for eternity.  And the fire never wanes or dies either.  For age unto age the blast furnace heat far exceeds the fire into which King Nebuchadnezzar threw Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  That pagan king heated up that furnace seven times beyond its regular blaze.  So very hot was it that the men who threw the three Jewish lads into it died from exposure to the heat.  Yet God sent his angel to protect the young men in there.  But Hellfire is profoundly hotter than the furnaces of Babylon, and God keeps his holy angels far from pits of Hell.

The rich man asked Father Abraham to send Lazarus with his finger dipped in water so to cool his burnt parched lips.  But Father Abraham told that wicked soul that he had enjoyed his good things in his life and not done justice.  There was no relief for him who had ignored the righteous soul starving at the gate, stepping over the poor man on his way about town.  There is no relief in Hell, there is no companionship in Hell, there is no clean air to breathe in Hell, there is no rest from torment in Hell, and there is no peace and quiet in Hell.

The unforgiving oven of Hell continuously burns all flesh therein.  And since all the cursed souls in Hell possess their eternal bodies, the stench of burning flesh does not abate over the millennia.  The cries of the cursed, the stench of the damned, the torments of the devils, the separation from God, and the sheer inescapability of it all are too gruesome for us to understand but in the extremes of our language.  For we still possess our frail bodies of our mortality.  We still live our lives of decision.  We may yet turn to God.  We may yet spurn Satan and embrace Christ.  Our judgement is still yet to come, for we mortal men remain alive … today.  But as death and judgement await us, so does either Heaven or Hell.

 

St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians ii.9, “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.”  Wonderful bounteous beauties await those who follow Christ unto the end.  There, in Heaven, we will eternally witness and experience the dynamic loving-kindness of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost.  But those in Hell are denied this, the Beatific Vision.  The damned do not behold God, for they lived without God; they lived for themselves, and so they remain tortured by the lack of God for which they were made in the company of all the foul spirits who rejected God for themselves.  Thus, those in perdition suffer the company of the most selfish wicked souls ever created while those in bliss enjoy the great love of those who put you above themselves.

We were made by God to enjoy God.  To be denied God for eternity is the greatest sorrow man can know.  Now we are on the earth in our mortal life, and so we can only barely glimpse what the damned miss.  For we ourselves are yet getting to know God.  We still foolishly believe that something other than God may bring us greater joy than our Creator.  St. Bonaventure said, “The most terrible penalty of the damned is being shut out forever from the blissful and joyous contemplation of the Blessed Trinity.”  St. John Chrysostom said, “I know many persons only fear Hell because of its pains, but I assert that the loss of the celestial glory is a source of more bitter pain than all the torments of Hell.”  Every moment we feel loss or long for something we cannot have, we are touched by the lack of God in our lives.  So we try to fill up our emptiness with the delights of the flesh and the world, with passions, honors, riches, sensual gratifications, and all the vain and fleeting pleasures of this realm.  But all of these things are hollow and empty.  God alone is the one true source of the soul’s happiness.  To be finally denied the only source of happiness is logically to live in eternal despair and agony.

The eternal sorrow of the damned will recall their many occasions to turn from the way of wickedness, all the wrongs committed against God and neighbor, and all the many times their friends and family urged them to amend their ways.  Thus their conscience will pain them beyond measure, along with the stench, the heat, the cries of the lost, and the torments of demons.  They will forever know that they could have avoided such an unbearable fate had they only responded truthfully to the Lord of life instead of making their own way according to their own perverse and peculiar thoughts.  Alas, the presence of their own minds, will, conscience, and memory, cause the damned everlasting torment so unspeakable that our stomachs quiver in disgust.

 

Dear children of God, do not listen to the whispers of this world, which are either the hushed tones of sinful men or fallen angels.  David said (Psalm xiv.1):  “THE fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.”  You will hear that there is no God, no punishment, and no Hell.  You will be told that you may live your life however selfishly you wish and will never have to answer for your crimes.  But those words tempt you away from Christ and straight into the maw of Satan.

 

To avoid Hell, you must believe in Jesus Christ and give your heart to Him, you must be Baptized into His Death and Resurrection, and you must repent of your sins.

To grow in Christ as a living branch of his Body, you must obey the Six Precepts or Duties of Churchmen.  That is, worship every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  Receive the Body and Blood of Christ frequently.  Give our Lord the first tenth of your income in the tithe.  Seek after righteousness by keeping your conscience clean of all sin and confess your sins if you fall.  Fast like our Lord did when directed to by His Body.  And keep the marriage laws of the Church, witnessing to the holiness of Christ.

If you are doing all these things, then seriously attend to prayer, good works, and studying the Holy Scripture.  It is possible and not all that difficult to live such a life.  Besides avoiding Hell, the soul who carefully lives a Christian life will grow closer and closer to our Lord while you still draw breath on this earth, after which He will not forget you in the world to come.

 

St. Matthew xxv.41:  “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

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“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

 

“Our Highest Calling”

St. Paul dearly loved the Church at Philippi, and today’s Epistle lesson shows it.  The prayer and rejoicing which shine forth in these verses set the tone for the entire epistle.  Let’s take a closer look at it.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you “

“I thank” is the same root as Eucharist, actually eucharisto here.  He thanks God for his remembrance of them.  They have supported him in his mission amongst the Gentiles.  St. Paul is grateful for them.

St. Paul loved all of the Philippians and cared for them all, even though he had words of warning for some of them.  He could criticize them, indeed he was obligated by his office as apostle to admonish them, but that in no way diminished his love for them.  God loves us all, regardless of whether or not we deserve his love.  That’s the way that the love of God is – it is never earned, only given – and received.  St. Paul knew this personally, for he had been a persecutor of the Church and was complicit in the martyrdom of St. Stephen.

 

 

“always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy,”

Here St. Paul mentions prayer twice, once with the word prayer and also in “making request”.  He writes, “for you all” praying for all of the Philippians, not just the elite or saints, including those who are difficult, the ones he will later chastise.

This prayer for each other builds what they already have between them and is a result of the love they have between them.  The relationship of prayer with those who are joined in Christ is never simple and one-directional.  They are bound in prayer for each other to God as they are bound together in Christ’s love.

“With joy” opens one of the important themes of the epistle.  He prays for them with joy.  In Ephesians, he writes so much of love.  Here in Philippians, he writes wrapped in joy.  He wrote in Galatians v.22, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy,” and so on.  As John Wesley said, “Joy peculiarly enlivens prayer.”

 

 

“for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now;”

One reason for St. Paul’s joy is fellowship, or in Greek, koinonia.  In Christian terms, fellowship is more than association.  It is an evocative word, summoning meanings of emotion and practicality.  The Gospel brings all Christians into a relationship of responsibility for each other.

In this particular situation, the Philippians have shared responsibility with St. Paul for his missions.  The Philippians have looked after St. Paul – and he after them – with care, joy, thanksgiving, and prayer.  They have a past together, but they also have a future together.  He was genuinely thankful for the Philippians’ participation in his ministry.  For truly the ministry is neither yours or mine but His – Christ’s.  They shared in His ministry together.

 

 

“being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ:”

God, by his grace, has begun a good work in them which he will bring to perfection.  What God begins, he sees through to the end; the end of God’s work is perfection, or it is not God’s work at all.  The “day of Jesus Christ” is the day of Christ’s Second Coming.  This is when the worship of Him by the entire cosmos in ii.10-11 will manifestly become a reality.  When Christ returns, we will then see

That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

 

 

“even as it is meet for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart; inasmuch as both in my bonds, and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers of my grace.”

“To think this” is not just the stuff of intellect, but to judge or to hold an opinion; to have an attitude toward something.  To “have you in my heart” speaks to the deep emotional bond St. Paul has with the Philippians.  The heart is not just seat of emotions but center of a person.

St. Paul is explaining to them why he loves them and feels so close to them.  He himself is preparing for trial in Rome, and is probably using evidence and trial terms in this epistle.  They have helped him afford to travel and preach.  They have operated together, if even not in the same place always.  He longs for them, and he prays for them.

 

 

“For God is my record, how greatly I long after you all in the tender mercies of Christ Jesus.”

Like in a trial, St. Paul swears under oath – as God is my record.  He eagerly desires to be with them.  He longs after them and yearns for them.  He uses the words tender mercies for compassion, which means guts.  An old way of saying this is “bowels of mercy”.  And these are not St. Paul’s tender mercies, but Christ’s.  He loves them, but it is not his own tenderness which he has towards them, but the tenderness of Christ Himself.

Remember that we, you and me, are no longer simply our own persons but are united to Christ as members of His Body.  The love we have for one another shares in the love Christ has for each of us.  That is to say, I love you with the love Christ loves you.  That love is much better and more perfect and complete than my own impaired, imperfect, and limited love.  As Christians, we love each other with the infinite love of Christ Himself.  This is the love of God which can work miracles.  This is what we have right here together in this parish.

 

 

“And this I pray, that your love may abound yet more and more in knowledge and in all judgment;”

He begins by writing of “your love”, the loving-kindness which the Philippians have with each other, their mutual love which is the reflection of the love of God.  He prays that this love of God which they have for each other “may abound yet more and more”!  He wishes above all things, so much so that he goes to the Lord in prayer to intercede on their behalf, that the Christian self-sacrificial loving-kindness which they have for one another would continue to increase to maturity.

To this unquenchable fire of divine love he then follows “in knowledge and in all judgment” – this is the fruit of the love.  And why do they need this knowledge and judgment?

 

 

“that ye may approve things that are excellent; that ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ;”

The word “approve” here means to discern or prove.  This is not a nod of the head.  This is a searching understanding for that which is spiritually solid and excellent.  He asks for an increase of love for right judgment so to approve only the best things.  And why?

“That ye may be sincere and without offence till the day of Christ”  Sincere here literally means, “tested by sunlight”, like holding up jars of jelly or glasses of wine.  “Without offence” means “without stumbling”, or without offense, such as in 1 Corinthians x.32:  “Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:”  The “day of Christ” is the parousia, which is the Second Coming of Christ.  St. Paul often mentions this as a way to remind the churches to prepare for this day, which of course is a day which we should prepare for as well.

What a wonderful prayer!  We could not ask God for something more wonderful for each other.  Loving-kindness, spiritual knowledge, discernment of excellence, all effective to ensure that they be judged by Christ on the last day to be blameless.

 

 

“being filled with the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”

This “being filled with the fruits of righteousness” means completed, brought to maturity, and perfected.  Being morally and spiritually perfected and brought to maturity gives rise to the “fruits of righteousness”.  This term is from the Old Testament.  Righteousness means being right with God.

The reading concludes with “the fruits of righteousness, which are by Jesus Christ, unto the glory and praise of God.”  We do not repair our relationship with God through our own effort.  Christ completes us and our relationship with Him.  The fruits of righteousness are by Christ, are from outside of ourselves.  We are the recipients of the fruits of righteousness as we are recipients of the fruits of the orange tree.  The tree makes the fruit, and we receive and eat the fruit.

The righteousness of the Philippians is from Christ, and to Christ St. Paul gives thanks and praise, for he loves them, and he loves Him Who saved them and is perfecting them in love and righteousness.  His love of them brings him to thank God.  His love of these wonderful people brings him to love God even more.

Here is where the unity of the Two Great Commandments which I recited earlier this Mass comes from.  The love of God and the love of neighbor are essentially one movement of love, one gracious outpouring, one cycle building up one, then the other, and then the one again.  The love of God shows us to love our neighbor, and the love of neighbor lets us give thanks for God’s love.

 

 

Because we are members one with another with our fellow Christians, we are to love our neighbors as ourselves even when our neighbors are not Christian, not our friends, and not our family.  We are to enter into personal loving relationships with our neighbors because we are followers of Christ whom He has redeemed and made righteous.  Christ’s calling is the highest calling in the entire world, the whole cosmos.  In the entirety of our lives, there is nothing we can do that is as important as loving the Lord our God with our whole selves and loving our neighbors as ourselves.

 

 

“I THANK my God upon every remembrance of you”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Putting on the Whole Armor of God”

My dear children, we are all in danger.  We are all under attack.

The serpent in the Garden beguiled the woman and tempted the man, bringing sin and death into our world and our lineage.  We are made to live forever, yet we continue to drop off despite our best efforts to hang on.

Each one of us is assailed every day, beset by temptation and trial, the “wiles of the devil”.  Have you ever wanted another fifteen minutes’ sleep instead of showing up to work on time?  Would you rather do something in your home instead of say your prayers?  Then you are under enemy fire through temptation.

In the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp around the end of the First Century, we read of what those condemned to die faced (2:4 – 3:1) “The devil tried many devices against them.  But thanks be to God, his might did not prevail over any.”

We read in the Revelation of St. John xii.7:  “And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,”  We are in a fight whether or not we recognize it.  Before we can put up an adequate defense, before we can recognize that we need a savior, we must realize that we are in terrible shape, and the enemy relents not, continuing to attack us in our weakness as well as our strength.  We are in danger, for we are under attack.

We are insufficient to the task of defending ourselves against the powers of evil.  We ourselves are influenced by the taint of wickedness and sin.  We are surrounded by evil intelligences seeking our destruction.  The rest of humanity, also under the influence of sin, distorts our sense of righteousness and entices us to follow it.  We need help.  We need divine help.

 

But thanks be to God, we read in this epistle lesson, as well as many other Scripture verses, that God has defended us.  “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

This is not a new concept.  Centuries earlier, Isaiah wrote in lix.17:  “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head; and he put on the garments of vengeance for clothing, and was clad with zeal as a cloke.”

St. Paul also wrote in 2 Corinthians x.3-4:  “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh:  (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)”

 

Of course, using armor and weapons in this warfare means that we cannot fight naked, unarmored, and unarmed; that is, without help from outside of ourselves.

How are to be strong except in the Lord and the power of his might?  All strength comes from God; all salvation comes from God.  There is no one to help us but God.  We have no life except in God.

We have the very Son of God, our noble captain.  We have all the faithful saints as our comrades.  We have Truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, salvation, and the Holy Ghost as our armor.  We go forth in prayer, perseverance, and supplication.  Christ has already won the ultimate battle on the Cross.  Christ defeated death on that Cross.  And yet we still fight the good fight.  Christ has gone on to open Heaven to us, but He has not left us alone.  He has sent us the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Ghost.

 

With these spiritual protections and the very presence of God, we should not fear in the face of the ancient enemy or the contemporary ally of that enemy.

King David sings in Psalm lxxi.2:  “Be thou my stronghold, whereunto I may alway resort:”  This is a prayer, which is answered by God’s promise.

Psalm xxvii.1:  “THE LORD is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear? * the LORD is the strength of my life; of whom then shall I be afraid?”  Without God, we are weakened in darkness, caught by our enemies.  We are caught by death, by hunger, by thirst, by nakedness, by unpopularity and loneliness, by disease, by icy coldness and scorching heat.  Without God, we are utterly at a loss, destitute, defeated.

“MY brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might.”  How are we to be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might?  St. Paul continues on and tells us that we are to “Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

We as Christians are not alone.  First and most importantly, we are members grafted onto Him, the True Vine, the Lord of Lords, the Alpha and the Omega.  We are members of Christ by His gracious allowance.  He is most generous and courteous to us.  Through our Holy Baptism into His death and Resurrection, He accepts us as members of His Body.  We are never alone, for we are in Christ.

We as Christians are not alone.  Second and most graciously, others are also members of Christ alongside us.  We have brothers and sisters uncounted throughout the world and across time.  St. Mark xii.26-27:  “And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living:”

We are forever alive in Christ; in Christ we all have eternal life.  We are right now the brothers and sisters of all the saints whose names we read in the Holy Mass – and have been read for many centuries – along with all the saints who appear in the back of the bulletin, along with those whom we pray for that we have known, along with saints we will never personally know until Heaven.  We are members of Christ, yes and true; but we are also members one of another.  We had better grow close to each other here and now, for we will be seeing each other for all eternity.  And not just us, but many others born and those yet to be born.  We are a powerful army, the great host of the Lord God of Sabaoth.  We are members of Holy Church.  We are the chosen, the elect of God Almighty.  The world may turn its back on us, but first it turned its back on Christ, our High King and brother through divine adoption.

Psalm xviii.1-2:  “I WILL love thee, O LORD, my strength. * The LORD is my stony rock, and my defence;  My Saviour, my God, and my might, in whom I will trust; * my buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”

Even in the Old Testament, King David sang of the great power, support, and defense of our great, good, and powerful God.  He sang that we trust him.  He sang that the Lord was his “buckler, the horn also of my salvation, and my refuge.”  Buckler, or shield:  David used God to defend himself.  Horn:  David called upon God to assist him and summon help in time of need.  Refuge:  David used God to hide himself in him, to rest assured that his enemies would not destroy him.

This is why we flee to Christ.  He is God Incarnate.  He is the Almighty Sovereign Lord God of the Universe Who has come down amongst us as a little baby in tiny Bethlehem.  Bethlehem in Hebrew is Beth Lehem, or House of Bread.  Christ is Heavenly Bread sent down from Heaven for us to eat, like manna.  But unlike manna which lasted for but a day or two and gave nutrition only for a day or two, Christ’s own Blessed Body gives eternal life.  Christ is God, and Christ offered up His Body for us to eat and offered up His Blood for us to drink.

Yesterday, our young Mr. Jordan Hewett received the completion of his Baptism in the Sacrament of Confirmation.  He has now literally entered into the communion of Christ by communing with His Body and Blood.  He has eaten the Bread of Heaven.  He has drank Christ’s own Blood poured out for the life of the world.

Christ died on the Cross so that our newest communicant might be saved, and Christ offered him His Body and His Blood so that Jordan might receive Divine Medicine, the only cure and stay against death, disease, and decay.  Jordan has partaken of everlasting life, like so many of you have!  We are defended against “the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  We are here to put on “the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.”

We are weak, but He is strong.  So we wrap ourselves, not in the temporary flag of this mortal country, but in the Flesh and Blood of our Lord Christ.  We put on the whole armor of God, which is God Himself!  We bury ourselves deep into the bosom of our Lord so that all the ailments of this world cannot touch us.

Oh, but we are still subject to “the rulers of the darkness of this world.”  Unless Christ returns first in power and great glory, we will die, we will draw our last breath, our eternal spirits will separate from our bodies, “earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”  But lest we forget the words which follow, recall that we will rise again, “in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection unto eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ, at whose coming in glorious majesty to judge the world, the earth and the sea shall give up their dead; and the corruptible bodies of those who sleep in him shall be changed, and made like unto his own glorious body; according to the mighty working whereby he is able to subdue all things unto himself.”

Christ is God.  Christ is Lord.  We are fully vested in Christ, and Christ will redeem us, Christ is redeeming us, and Christ has redeemed us.  We are entirely secure and safe in our Lord Christ.

Christ is our savior and our friend, He Who delivers us from the power of Hell and brings us into everlasting life through His Body and Blood.

Christ guards us and wards us with powerful arms and armor, so that each of us may:

take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of righteousness; and your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith, wherewith ye shall be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God:

We do this not alone by ourselves, but constantly “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;”

We are never alone.  We are saved by the Body and Blood of Christ.  We are mighty in the Holy Ghost.

 

“Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

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“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

 

“Baptized into Christ’s Kingdom”

We are subjects of two kingdoms.  We are subjects of Christ our King and citizens of these United States, or whatever country you hail from.  How we live our lives in this green land of America is both informed by our Heavenly King and will influence our life in the hereafter.  Also, our life under Christ our King informs our citizenship here on earth in this great country of ours.

 

Now the kingdom of this world is not simply the domain of Satan, even though St. Paul does call it “the power of darkness”.  The kingdom of this world is that broken part of Creation, of the cosmos, that does not claim Christ as Lord.  Whereas we like to think that the saving work of Christ in the cosmos is expanding, in our own culture we see little evidence of it.  Think for instance of thirty-five years ago, when the popular television series M*A*S*H sympathetically depicted a chaplain amongst its characters.  Such a thing is foreign to television today.

Indeed, university students are increasingly told that their faith holds no bearing – or only poses a burden – on their education, when the original universities were explicitly Christian.  Unelected judges overturn same-sex marriage bans and abortion restrictions partially on the claim of there being no reasonable or non-sectarian basis for them.  In several states of this Union, courts and legislatures require citizens taking out any insurance plan to pay for elective abortions, regardless of their consciences, even though it is simply avoided.

But despite all this and the recent news out of Houston with sermons being demanded of preachers, other governments in the kingdom of this world have had it much worse.  This Wednesday we celebrate the Feast of the Martyrs of Uganda, the dozens of Anglican and Roman Catholic boys who were the sex slaves of the pagan king of Uganda and refused his lustful desires.  For their disobedience to the king of this world and their obedience to the High King of Heaven, they were put to death.  Earlier, the king had grown angry with the missionaries from the Church of England and the Church of Rome as they kept criticizing him and his support of Moslem missionaries.

This past week in Morning Prayer, we read in First Kings about Elijah, Ahab, and Jezebel, how the righteous prophet squared off against the wicked monarchs of Israel.  But before Elijah, Samuel warned Israel against having an earthly king, warning them in I Samuel viii.18:  “And ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shall have chosen you; and the LORD will not hear you in that day.”

 

Worldly governments clearly fail to set out a righteous course for us to live in.  But the government of Christ the King exemplifies all good and glorious things.  Our worldly governments tell us that things which are clearly wrong are right; the government of Christ the King unerringly tells us what the wrong things are with such accuracy and precision that we cannot actually avoid them perfectly.

Today’s Epistle mentions “the inheritance of the saints in light”.  This refers to the Kingdom of God.  In the next verse, “the power of darkness” is the antithesis of the Kingdom.

“And he is the head of the body, the church:”  Coming right after speaking of “all things” and spiritual beings, this shows that the last verses here, vv 18-20, demonstrate an equivalency between the cosmos and the Church.  This is tied to the universal mission of Holy Church, to bring all people to Christ and His kingdom.  The work of the Church is Christ’s salvific work in the whole broken cosmos.  Later in ii.10, Christ is called the “head of every rule and authority”.  Christ created all and rules all, and we are members of His Body in that cosmos and Holy Church.  Each one of us is part of something epic and big.

 

Now, there is one way into Christ’s Kingdom:  Holy Baptism.  We read in St. John iii.5, “Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.”  This is our passport, our entrance; this is how we immigrate from the kingdom of the world to the kingdom of God.  When we are buried with Christ and then share in His Resurrection, we join with Him mystically and sacramentally.  When Christ commands His disciples at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, He says,

“All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”

Before we are Augustans, Georgians, or Americans, before we are black, white, or any other race of this world, before all these things, we are under the banner of Christ our King.  By virtue of our supernatural sacramental Baptism into the life and death of Christ our Lord, we are brothers and sisters of the Nigerian schoolgirl held in some African camp more fully than we are brothers and sisters to our natural sister who does not believe.  By virtue of our belief in Christ our King, we are brothers and sisters of the impoverished but faithful Haitian farmer more than we are brothers and sisters to our unbaptized brother with whom we grew up.

 

So what does this new citizenship look like?  We read in Ephesians v.1-5:

“Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour. But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints; Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks. For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”

First, we must walk in sacrificial loving-kindness.  We must love the Lord our God with all our hearts, with all our soul, and with all our minds, and we must love our neighbors as ourselves.  This is unbelievably difficult, but we have no alternative.  God is love, and we are to conform ourselves to God.

Second, we are very specifically told to avoid wicked behavior.  After all, Christ says, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.”  So we are to avoid fornication, uncleanness, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talking, jesting.  We are not to be whoremongers, unclean, covetous, or idolaters.  Essentially, we are to pay attention and keep the Ten Commandments.

We are to love and we are to keep moral lives.  Third, we are to give thanks.  It is no mistake that each of our regular services in our Book of Common Prayer includes a prayer of thanksgiving.  We are to thank God for the goodness in our lives.  We are to thank God for our lives, God himself, other people, and all the goodness of God.  Love without thanks is hardly love indeed.

 

Today’s Epistle begins, “Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

Moving from darkness into light reminds the Christian soul of the Exodus, especially the miraculous passage through the Red Sea.  While Moses his prophet stretched out his hand, the Lord caused the wind to blow on the sea, exposing the seabed so that the people of Israel could escape from Pharaoh and his army, freeing them to reach the Holy Land.  So likewise, we are in bondage to sin and death in the kingdom of this world, no matter how fine it is otherwise to us.  And God brings us out of “from the power of darkness”.  Through the miracle of Christ’s death and Resurrection, we transfer from one side to the other.

 

Having passed from the old way of death to the new way of life, Christ having given us the forgiveness of sins, so we are to imitate our God and King.

The way we worship is to obey.  And we become like Christ.  When the early Church worshipped Christ their God, they became more and more like Christ, and they grew like wildfire.  The early Christians did not visit and attend congregations to find out which ones were the most like what they wanted, asking to make the service the way they wanted, requiring the teaching to be like they wanted.  In all things, they obeyed Holy Church, they obeyed their Lord and Savior, they became like Him as disciples, and they grew and spread.  This is the way not only of faithfulness to God, not only of resisting the sinfulness of the world, but is also the way of evangelism, growth, and maturity.

Almost like the Anglo-Saxons of Wessex over eleven hundred years ago, our king is our best man, the man who exemplifies our ideals, the man whom we seek to emulate.  Blessed Alfred the Great, King of Wessex was one such king of this world; Christ, the King of Heaven and Earth, is the king of the whole cosmos and of the whole Church.

With God, we know who is king.  We know that His rule is always right and holy.  We know that we have no say in His rule.  And indeed, while God wants our whole selves, our souls and bodies, we actually live in great freedom, freedom from sin, death, and Hell.

God the Father calls us to live our lives in the service of Christ our King.  We are to live meek, humble lives in penitence and holiness, avoiding sin, and loving our God with our whole being and our neighbor as ourselves.

 

“We give thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light:  Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son:”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.  Amen.

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