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Posts Tagged ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

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

 

St. Ephrem the Syrian is the first in the historical record who mentioned the Feast of All Saints, doing so before A.D. 373.  The Orthodox still celebrate the feast on its older day, the first Sunday after Pentecost, when we now celebrate Trinity Sunday

We derive the word, saint, from the Latin, sanctus, which means holy.  To make something holy is to hallow it.  All Hallows means All Saints.  Thus, Halloween or All Hallows’ Eve means All Saints’ Eve.

A saint is a holy person.  All whom God judges righteous and elects to go with him into everlasting felicity are saints.  In the end, there are only the saints and the damned.  If we persevere in Christ, we shall be saints too.

 

Sometimes, Christians on Earth are called saints.  But as with the wheat and the tares and the wedding banquet and the wedding-garment, some who will not persevere are mixed in with those who will.  We do not know who will be faithful and who will fall away.  Thus, we usually reserve calling saints only those whom we strongly suspect of profound personal holiness.

The Church acknowledges heroic Christians as saints.  The Body of Christ can discern what we cannot as individuals.  Dying the martyr’s death is a particularly good indicator of sainthood.  A holy life and performing miracles possibly indicate sainthood.  However, being a prominent Christian, such as a king or bishop, is not a trustworthy sign of sainthood.  A common quip amongst the saints is to the effect of:  ‘the road to Hell is paved with the skulls of bishops and priests’.

Whether recognition of saints is formal, as with the Church of Rome, or informal, as with the Orthodox and Anglicans, it is not an individual thing.  All require the recognition of the Church.  Formal or informal, the Church gets a collective sense of a soul’s holiness and faithfulness.

 

Today, we worship together and celebrate the feast of all God’s saints.  The first documentary evidence for invoking the saints is from around A.D. 156, when the Church celebrated the anniversary of St. Polybius’ martyrdom.  The cult of relics, with its own Scriptural and theological support, reinforced the cult of saints.  In the Fourth Century, St. Cyril of Jerusalem distinguished between the martyrs included at the Mass who pray for us and the regular dead whom we pray for.

Some of us are quite devoted to one saint or another.  Many of us learn lessons on how to walk the way of Christ from the examples of the saints.  We ask for the prayers of the saints.  But we may take our admiration or veneration of the saints too far, confusing the creature and the Creator by worshiping or adoring them.  That is idolatry.  An immeasurable gap between Creator and creature exists between the Lord God and the saints, including the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Truly, only Christ has the merits, the unburdened freely earned goodness and virtue, to bestow upon us.  We who sin can do no good thing without the burden of our sins.  We cannot repay the damage we have caused, much less add more atop it.  Only Christ was sinless, and only He performed holiness with what He innately possessed, for He is true God of true God.  We are not.  We derive our goodness from Him.  The saints do not have their own merits.  So, we do not invoke the merits of the saints, for theirs are the merits of Christ.

During the Medieval era, the veneration of saints gained some unbalanced additions.  The Reformation cleaned house, as it were, too far amongst Lutherans and Calvinists and not far enough amongst Romans.  Our relationship with the saints ought never obscure the fundamental truths of the Faith and the Persons and work of Almighty God.  The invocation of saints is a vital but subsidiary part of our Christian faith.

Throughout the year, the Church celebrates a great many saints in her kalendar.  The feast of the apostles Ss. Simon and Jude were last week and that of St. Andrew is at the end of this month, with many less prominent saints in between, such as the Martyrs of Uganda and St. Hilda.  But a great many saints are little known.  The Feast of All Saints includes both the recognized, or canonized, saints and the saints who died in obscurity.

The saints above intercede for us as we intercede for each other down here.  We pray for the dead, the Church Expectant.  The saints in glory, the Church Triumphant, pray for us.

Holy Church understands that the prayers of the saints are efficacious to us, but we know not how.  We know that the saints pray for us and this avails in our lives in ways we do not comprehend.  Fr. Knowles, the author of The Catholic Religion, said:  “Their holy prayers to God for us must aid our faulty ones to Him!”

 

“O ALMIGHTY God, who hast knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou hast prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee;”

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

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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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In today’s collect, we pray to God, “that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

 

“Preparing for Death”

I remember watching my father breathe his last breath and literally expire.  One minute my father lay sick, and the next minute his body lay dead.  Right before was the last minute of my life with him, and right after was the first minute of my life without him.

Anguish washed over my soul.  I did not know how to breathe without him in my life; I did not know how to eat, sleep, or go to school without his presence.  But I learned.  And learning how to live my life without him was horrible beyond description.

 

We fear death.  We fear death because in dying we leave this way of existence and head into another way of existence, a way which we know nothing about by personal experience.

We fear death because we have seen others die.  We continue on, and they apparently do not.  We wish to continue on, even if our current life is miserable.  We instinctively cherish our own lives and do not want to give them up.

We fear death because death comes when the body sustains irreparable damage by accident, disease, or age.  All three are deeply ugly in our sight.  We shudder when we imagine ourselves receiving damage from a horrible accident, or succumbing to a deadly disease, or wasting away in our elder infirmity.  We would rather live in our youthful bodies, or failing that, our bodies as we currently have them.

We fear death because we naturally perceive that death is contrary to the created order of things.  Why would God create us if we were to die?  God Incarnate, Christ Himself cried when He beheld the dead body of His friend Lazarus.  If God who overcomes death cries at death, we who cannot overcome death certainly quail in its presence.

 

Death is one of the essential facts of Creation’s brokenness.  The other is sin, intimately related to death.

In Genesis, we read that “God created the heaven and the earth.”  And after each day of Creation, “God saw that it was good.”  Except on the last day, when “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”  On that sixth day, “God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.”

So the human race is the capstone upon Creation, that finishing part that made it “very good” in God’s sight.  We were to live with God for all eternity in the Garden.  Possessing both body and soul, we were to walk with God and enjoy his immediate and direct presence.

But our ancestors broke our communion with God when they defied him and sought to live in power and glory without him, partaking of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  And lest they stretched forth their hands and partake of the Tree of Life, God expelled them from the Garden.

Before he expelled them, God cursed us, saying, “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So it is that death is an unnatural state brought upon by Man’s Fall into sin.  It is necessarily related to sin.  Sin brought death into the world of men.  The only way to remedy death is by remedying sin.

 

Death is a miserable predicament.  Death breaks asunder that which God created to be one.  We are meant to be whole, body and soul.  Death is like unto divorce, which rips apart that which God has joined together.  Once God has put these things together into one essential and holy thing, it is against nature and God to destroy it.  Thus, death is an abomination by its nature and by its disobedience to God’s will.

We brought upon ourselves this death, this destruction.  By following their will instead of God’s will, Adam and Eve chose to destroy themselves.  They didn’t know what they were getting into, but out of their stupid lust they went and wrecked what God had created.

And we are no better than they were.  You and I are guilty of this sin.  We have caused our own deaths.  Even the best of us “have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;”  By thinking that our ways are better than God’s ways, we stray from him.  God is the creator, nurturer, and sustainer of life; yet we think that we can create, nurture, and sustain ourselves away from him.  Each one of us has earned his own death.

 

So from the time of Adam and Eve until the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, death reigned in the lives of men without any sure remedy.  But God did not leave men alone.  The Patriarchs spoke with God personally, and he guided them.  God gave the Law through Moses to Israel.  God sent the Prophets to preach to Israel.

Then, as St. Paul wrote in Galatians iv.4:  “But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman ….”  Christ became Man, uniting the fulness of divinity and the fulness of humanity in one holy Person.  St. Paul also wrote in Romans xiv.9, “For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living.”

We need not die like those without hope.  Christ took on our mortal human nature and died.  God the Father sent God the Son into the world as the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior of the world.  And He conquered death.  But He conquered death in a most interesting way:  Christ conquered death by dying Himself.  He apparently yielded to sin and death.

But no!  Christ rose from the grave, defeating death and sin.  In Christ, we are victorious over the grave.  The grave has claimed the life of almost every man who ever lived, save only Enos and Elijah in the Old Testament.  Christ has destroyed the hold of the grave over us.  Yet we must enter the grave just like our Lord Christ did.  Each of us will die, but for those who are counted among the redeemed of the Lord, we will live with God for all eternity.

 

So, given that each of us must die unless the Lord returns first, it obviously follows that we must prepare for our deaths.  I say obviously, but sometimes it doesn’t seem obvious at all.  I want to forget that I will die, my body will rot, and my soul will flee.  I want to live my life blissfully ignoring this obvious fact of my life.  I want to ignore it because I want to do whatever I want whenever I want.  I want to dictate the terms of my life to God, just like Adam and Eve did, just you do, just like we all do.

This is wrong.  But we still do it.  So, the first thing we must do to prepare for our inevitable end is to think upon our death each and every day.  This is called memento mori.  Some will object that this is morbid and sad.  To this the Church answers that the only way to life everlasting is through faith in Christ, and that means that we must think on our death and on our Savior.  So first, remember that you will die.

Secondly, we must not only remember that we will die but have faith in Christ and repent of our sins.  The minimum duty of Churchmen, the Six Duties of Churchmen, are not only our least duty but also our saving path.

We must attend Mass each and every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.  We must receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least three times a year, one of those times being during Christmastide.  We must tithe, fast, and keep the Church’s rules for sexual relations.  And we must keep our consciences clean.  These tidily fall into three sections for preparing ourselves for Heaven.

First, we must focus upon the objective worship of Christ in the Mass.  We each subjectively worship Christ in many parts of our lives, such as holy thoughts, devout feelings, and inspired sharing.  But Christ gave us His Body and Blood to partake of it, not to ignore it.  When we join ourselves with Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father, we mystically join together with Christ.  A woman who has done this reverently for seventy years is better prepared to meet Christ’s Judgement than a man who mostly forgets to show up to worship.

Second, tithing, fasting, and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage help us live our lives in the moral way Christ would have us live them.  We ought to be generous, loving, patient, self-sacrificing, and treat our selves and other people’s selves in holiness and godliness.  If we were to tithe, fast, and keep ourselves sexually as we are supposed to while worshipping God and keeping our consciences pure, then we would find ourselves moving in the right direction to God, thus preparing for our judgement.

Third, we must keep our consciences pure.  On the one hand, we must avoid sin and eagerly seek after righteousness.  On the other hand, we must confess our sins.  Thus we repent, or turn away from, our sins.  We should privately tell God each day what we have done wrong, our firm resolution to avoid doing that again, and asking him for forgiveness.  We also can assist our devotion at Mass by remembering our sins and earnestly saying the confession with these sins on our hearts.  We can also come to me or another priest and confess our sins in the Sacrament of Penance.

When our last hour comes, our soul will be brutally torn away from our body.  Satan and the wicked demons will assail us at that hour to tempt us away from Christ with thoughts that He cannot save us, that our sins are more than He can forgive, and that we have no need of Christ at all.  Although our guardian angel and patron saints will powerfully intercede for us at that moment, the singularly best way for us to prepare for the torment and temptation of our death is to be strong in prayer and pure in soul.  And that requires preparation.

 

Advent is upon us.  Holy Church has for many centuries preached on death this very Sunday, which is most proper for helping us prepare for Christ’s return or our death, whichever comes first.

This Advent, I urge you to prepare for the inevitable fate you face.  I love you as my dear children.  I want each and every one of you to prosper in the loving-kindness of Jesus Christ our Lord.  I want each and every one of you to live with each other forever in God’s Kingdom.  I want to enjoy your presence forever before God our Father in the Holy Ghost.

With these wishes of love and peace and enjoying you as you were made by our Lord God, I ask you this week to try at least one of two things.  First, thoughtfully make a list of your sins and then reverently confess them to Christ either with the prayer of confession in the Prayer Book or in the Sacrament of Confession.  Second, pick your most intractable or hardest to control sin and try very hard to confess and turn from it every day this week.

The best way to prepare is to exercise.  The best way to prepare for a spiritual struggle is spiritual exercise.  Try at least one of these confessions of sin this week and prepare to meet your maker.  If you earnestly try, you will find yourself in better shape to be judged by Christ.

 

“that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal….”

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

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“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

 

“The Apostles”

What is an apostle?

‘Apostle’ literally means, ‘one who is sent’.  Which raises the questions, sent by whom?  Sent for what?  And sent where?

The apostles are personally commissioned by our Lord Christ.  They continue Christ’s ministry in His Church and the world by proclaiming the Gospel and governing the Church.  The apostles are sent to all the nations of the earth.

Acts ii.42:  “And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.”

The apostles are key to the continuation of Christ in His Church.  The apostles’ doctrine and fellowship are the doctrine and fellowship of Christ.  They spent three intense years under Christ, not merely learning but being formed by Him, walking with Him in His ministry and Passion.  He spent forty further days explaining all they had experienced through in light of the Resurrection.  They were the first given the Holy Ghost in St. John xx.22 and then more broadly in Acts ii.4 along with the Blessed Virgin Mary.

The apostles possess grace and authority from Christ Himself, which they then passed on to their successors the bishops as the Church grew.  And the Church here on earth grew rapidly while losing many to martyrdom.

The four marks of the Church are found in the Nicene Creed:  One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic.  These four characteristics or marks are found in the Nicene Creed.  Unfortunately, due to a printer’s error centuries ago, our Book of Common Prayer omits the word “Holy”.  Every Sunday we proclaim aloud that the Church is Apostolic.  What then is the character of the apostles?

 

First, apostles are humble.

The Gospel shows the Lord chiding the disciples regarding position and lordship.  Instead, Christ shows another way.  “For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.”  Only the humble may be great in Christ’s kingdom.  They shall rule and lead, but they must serve as they rule.

This is contrary to the way of the world.  Many leaders in the Church have not followed Christ’s path of humility.  But we are called to crucify our old selves and put on Christ.  We must mortify, that is kill off, our old sinful self to put on the Resurrection life of Christ our Lord.

The apostles also continue the ministry of Christ in His Church through their morality and way of life.  The maniple I wear today is derived from the heir of the old deacon’s towel, ready to wipe and to clean.  This humility is also symbolized by the washing of the feet on Maundy Thursday, when the bishop or priest kneels before his people.  Our own archbishop ordinary, that is to say our regular bishop, is quite modest in his life and manners.

 

Second, apostles proclaim the gospel.

Apostles are men duly commissioned by Christ who are sent to preach the Gospel to the whole world, carrying with them Christ’s doctrine in humility and love.  This proclamation of the Word of God is central to their character.  All of them, except St. John, died the martyr’s death preaching the Gospel of Christ.  Today’s Saint Bartholomew is said to have been horribly murdered for converting the King of Armenia through Gospel preaching and the great work of exorcism.  We see this emphasis on preaching the Gospel in Christ’s own words, from St. Peter on Whitsunday or Pentecost, and from St. Paul in Corinth.

Christ tells the remaining eleven disciples in St. Matthew xxviii.18-20 to teach the nations:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, 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. Amen.

When the people of Jerusalem wondered if those gathered in the Upper Room who had been given the Holy Ghost on the feast of Pentecost were drunk, St. Peter answered with mighty preaching.  We read the result in Acts ii.37-42:

Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?  Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.  For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.  And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation.  Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.  And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.

St. Paul refers to his own preaching to the church in Corinth in 1 Corinthians xv.1-4, in which he preaches the Gospel he himself was taught:

Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures:

The successor to the apostles appointed over us here at St. Luke’s Church is Archbishop Mark Haverland.  He will come to visit us this November 2nd.  He will preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, and tend to his flock.  He is the one responsible for our missions both overseas and domestically.  He teaches well and has proven himself to be a staunch and unmovable believer in the Gospel of Christ which he ensures is taught faithfully to you, his faithful people through the likes of me, one of his priests.

 

Third, apostles rule with authority.

Today’s lesson from Acts refers to the wondrous workings of St. Peter, showing that the apostles held healing power comparable to Christ.  St. Paul does similar work later in the Acts.  The apostles work wondrous miracles, they are to be a paradigm of humility according to the Gospel, they preserve the Lord’s doctrine, they form the core of the Church’s fellowship, and they are to become the rulers of Israel.

We ought to remember that the wonderful works and teachings and love shown forth the apostles and their successors are not theirs; they are Christ’s.  Without Christ, none of us can do any good work, can teach God’s honest truth, or love one another and God with all our hearts, with all our souls, and with all our minds.  All our good works, teaching, and love bear fruit in Christ alone.

The Church today is in continuity with the Apostolic Church through the Apostolic Succession.  Our own bishop has received the ensured Sacramental grace of Holy Order through both touching hands on heads and by practicing today the faith of the early Church.  Our doctrine conforms to the doctrine of the early Church.  If it does not, then we must reform so that it does so conform.

The Church is Apostolic because she keeps the faith delivered to her by Christ through the apostles and the successors of the apostles, the bishops.  Their consecrated touch in the Sacrament of Holy Order freely and certainly bestows the Holy Ghost which enables them to perform the work necessary to their calling.  This is clearly shown by St. Clement before the end of the first Century, conforms to the Holy Scriptures, supported by others immediately afterward, and taught throughout the Catholic Church.

Today’s Gospel shows that the Lord will have the Twelve Apostles judge the tribes of Israel.  As those ministers directly commissioned by Christ to grow the Church which He has planted, the apostles have the authority to rule over the Church.

After Pentecost, the apostles delegate authority to bishops, or overseers.  The Greek word for bishop is episcoposEpi means “over” and skopeo means “to see”.  A bishop oversees the church.  They continue the apostolic rule of those of Christ’s own ministry to Christ’s own Church.

Today, we crave Christ’s ministry amongst us.  Christ knew we would, and so He appointed those who would continue His ministry to the Church.  The apostles and the heirs of the apostles provide this leadership.  They are a great blessing from Christ to us.

The bishops ensure we hear the true Gospel every Sunday.  The bishops ensure every priest is vetted and trained before ordination.  That is why I read the Si Quis this morning, so that if any of you had something the bishop needed to know about Dr. Malone before his ordination, he would hear it.  Bishops convene synods of all the parishes, intervene in disturbed parish situations, discipline the clergy, and try to keep unity with good discipline and proper dogma with other Christian bodies.

 

Ask the holy apostles for their prayers.  They were personally selected by Christ, taught by him, and died for him.  They are alive in Christ in His Body, the Church Triumphant in Heaven.

Pray for your bishop, Archbishop Haverland, and your priests, Father Martin and me.  Christ has given us grace in the Holy Ghost to continue His work amongst his people.  But we are still frail sinful men like yourselves.  Pray that we stay humble, proclaim the true Gospel, and rule with loving-kindness and authority.

 

“he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.”

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

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“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

 

“Good Fruit and the Mystery of Salvation”

Today’s Epistle shows us that by exchanging masters from sin to God, we thereby become something other than slaves – sons.  We have a new relationship.  Becoming the servant of God, we are given the gifts of the Spirit of God, which allows us to call God Abba, or Father.

Today’s Gospel shows us, in the words of Fr. Shepherd, that “…Not everyone who addresses Christ as ‘Lord’ really belongs to Him, but only those who bring forth in their lives the true faith of the Spirit.”  We show that we follow God’s will not by public declarations and extraordinary acts, but by humble “deeds of righteousness”.

So receiving the Spirit of adoption, we cry, Abba, Father.  We are made heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ.  We are joined with Christ and presented by Him to the Father as part of Him, a member, a cutting away from sin which has been grafted onto the Body of Christ.  Yet as a grafted branch and member of Christ, if we do not produce good fruit, then Christ will claim not to know us on the last day.  The last verse of today’s Gospel and the next two verses of St. Matthew’s Gospel read,

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

How can we square this in our minds?  How can we take being elected heir of God the Father and yet not know him through our lack of good fruit?  This quandary speaks to the very heart of salvation.  We think of the charges alleged against Baptists, “once saved always saved”, wherein they can do wickedness after they are saved and still go to Heaven.  Martin Luther had a terrible time putting this together, so much so that he wanted St. James’ Epistle cut from the New Testament canon for “faith without works is dead”.  We also think of the Roman Catholics, against whom are alleged that they believe in “works righteousness”, wherein they do good works to be saved.  It is all a terrible mess.

But both of these things are true.  We are both grafted onto the Body of Christ through the action of the Holy Ghost and made joint-heirs with Christ and partakers of heavenly gladness and we might be chopped off that Lordly vine and thrown out to be burned if we do not produce good fruits.  We are adopted sons, but we are expected to do something with this gift.  We are given so much, and we ought to produce good works with what we have been given.

 

Let me explain this mystery of salvation, of justification and sanctification, this mystery of being “saved”.  For I call each and every one of you to both justification, or getting right with God, and to sanctification, or growing holy like God is holy.  We need both.  If you become a member of Christ’s Body, you are bound for eternal life with God.  But to live eternally with God, you must become perfect, become holy.  Both go together.

“Conversion”, “regeneration” or new birth, “strengthening with the Spirit”, and “good fruit” have a right relation to each other.  These relate to each other in Christ’s Body, Holy Church.  Since part of Holy Church, the Church Militant, is here on his earth right now, she, being the Body of Christ our Lord, gives us access in Christ to what we need to live with God forever.

God loves us.  He created us to live with him at the very beginning, but we rejected him.  He sent the Law and the Prophets, but we rejected them.  He sent His only-begotten Son into this world as one of us, to redeem us with His Precious Blood.  God in Three Persons loves us and wants us with him forever.

 

Let us take, for example, our friend the unbaptized sinner.  He wanders through this world hardly knowing right from wrong.  All that he does is tainted with sin both of deeds and of his sinful human nature.  But God as sovereign of the universe, through his angels and his saints, as creator of the world, prepares a path back to himself for the unwashed sinner.  God leads him to salvation in his prevenient grace.

Being thus led, let’s say this sinner sees God in the sky, or in song, or in the love of his fellow man.  His conscience is pricked, and he realizes he needs Christ.  He attends worship.  He learns of the things of God.  He believes in Christ and undergoes Holy Baptism.  He is born again, made regenerate.  He has new life, Christ’s life.  His old sinful self dies, and he is grafted onto the Body of Christ.

In this Sacrament of the Church, not through ritual magic but in the boundless merits of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, our friend here has his sins completely washed away.  The spiritual consequence of his misdeeds is undone.  Christ has taken away his sinful nature.  Yet our friend has not stopped being himself.  Unfortunately, he will walk out those red doors and sin again.  He is not yet perfect in Christ.

So our friend must be strengthened for the journey of our earthly pilgrimage.  He is currently a babe, a child in Christ.  He is a new Christian.  He may have many years on earth, but he is not spiritually mature.  He needs strength, maturity.  And so Holy Church has his bishop lay his hands upon him and confer the Sacrament of Confirmation.

The essence of Confirmation is not the recital of the Lord’s Prayer, Apostles’ Creed, or Decalogue.  The essence of Confirmation is not even that our friend reaffirms his Baptismal vow to live a Christian life.  The essence of Confirmation is the laying on of episcopal hands, anointing with holy oil, and the giving of the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.

These gifts are understanding and wisdom so he can discern the truth and its value, are knowledge and counsel so he can apprehend and apply moral laws, true godliness for loving piety, ghostly strength for “courageous spiritual warfare”, and holy fear for the loving desire to please God.  With these gifts imparted, our friend is weaned from childish food and is ready for the holy meal.

So converted, Baptized, and Confirmed, our good friend receives for the very first time Holy Communion, the Blessed Sacrament, Christ’s gift of Himself to us.  This is his meat and drink for the spiritual life here on earth.  No one separated from Christ’s gift of Himself, His own Body and Blood, can sustain his arduous journey through this life.

Christ came to earth at the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was born on Christmas Day, shed His first Blood at His Circumcision, fasted in the wilderness, taught Israel and beyond, and then carried His own Cross to His Crucifixion so that He might joyously rise again at His Resurrection and ascend into Heaven at His Ascension.  Christ did all this for you and for me.

Christ is not sitting around hanging out with the Father and the Holy Ghost in Heaven; He is interceding for you and me right now before God the Father.  Christ wants us with Him forever, as joint-heirs with Him to God the Father.  Christ wants us in His Baptism and to eat His Sacred Body and drink His Holy Blood.

Only now is our friend full up on the grace Christ would like to give him.  He has experienced conversion of heart.  He has experienced new birth in Christ.  He has received the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Ghost.  He receives the Body and Blood of Christ.  And yet….

And yet our friend may turn his back on God and walk away.  Our friend may decide, although it seems hard to imagine given all the trouble he has gone through, he may freely decide that he would rather follow his own thoughts back into unbelief, follow his own path instead of God’s calling to him, follow his own lusts and desires instead of living a holy and moral life.

Our friend is free.  Christ has freed him from sin.  Yet sin is all around us.  If sin were not so terribly enticing, it wouldn’t be a bother.  You see, sin is mighty tasty.  Sin is that peculiar notion, that third beer, that extramarital affair that seems so wonderful at the time.  Our friend may choose this over his loving Lord Christ.

But our friend still has a lot going for him.  He is grafted onto Christ’s living Body.  Christ would have him exercise his self-discipline and live a morally courageous life.  He could obey those Ten Commandments.  He could pray every day and study the Holy Scriptures.  He could love his enemies and turn the other cheek.

How can we know that our friend, now our brother is doing well?  Some of this holy striving to live a fruitful life is noticeable.

We would see our brother at Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation.  He would receive the Body and Blood of Christ at least on Christmas, Easter, and Pentecost.

We would see our brother materially support his parish through the tithe.  We might see him at a library fundraiser, but his wife and the parish treasurer would know he was giving God that ten percent of his income that shows he is truly thankful for the blessings God has given him.

We would see our brother remain faithful to his wife.  No shenanigans for this fellow, no flirting with the ladies.  Entered into Holy Matrimony with his wife, his devotion to her through the grace of God will have grown since his conversion, Baptism, and Confirmation.

We would see our brother in line at Confession and see him learn from his mistakes as he paid close attention to his conscience.

We would see our good brother fast.  Mind you, he does not flaunt it or throw it in other people’s faces.  He is a good guest and eats what is set before him at other’s homes, but when you see him out for dinner on Fridays he is never at the steakhouse.  When you go to his home for dinner during Lent, you are served fish and vegetables.

Our good brother bears much fruit.  Having been converted, born again, strengthened for the journey, and nourished at the Lord’s Table, we see him in the parish and the community doing his Six Duties of Churchmen and so much more.  Like a patriarch of old, he is generous to the poor and needy, upright in his conduct, and faithful to his God.  He is not a perfect man, but he is preparing for everlasting life.

This our friend shall not be lopped off the living vine and tossed into the fire.  Our friend bears much fruit, and not a little of it is in setting a good example for the rest of us.

 

For those of us Baptized as infants, hopefully we may avoid our conversion experience.  Although infants are incapable of sin and therefore the washing away of committed sins by Baptism does not help infants, Holy Baptism does kill off the old sinful nature and put the robe of righteousness onto that little baby.  Growing up in the Church, that baby can grow into a lovely young lady.  Weaned off of childish things, she will be strengthened with the Holy Ghost at her Confirmation and receive the solid food of Holy Communion, of Christ’s Body and Blood, for the first time.  Raised properly and not being too contrary, she may never need to go through the time of rebellion from God that would require a conversion of heart.

But for those of us, like myself, who were Baptized as an infant but went through a time of rebellion from God, Christ’s life does not avail for us until we are converted.  Holy Baptism does suck your soul up into Heaven.  It makes us regenerate, but only with conversion of life.  Only the fruitful tree shall enter into the Kingdom of heaven.  We must respond in faith through good works to reckon with the call of Christ in our lives.

 

We were created in the image of God, and our natural and supernatural growth shall be in God’s image.  Therefore, we are to love perfectly.  St. Matthew v.48:  “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”

Those that are written in the Lamb’s book of life, those who are undefiled, shall enter into the Heavenly Jerusalem.  Since we are washed clean of our sins in Christ, those who are undefiled are those who have been freed from their sins and made perfect in Christ.  He makes abundantly clear to us in the Holy Scriptures and in Holy Church that we are to improve from our sinful, broken, and alienated selves.  Christ wants us in Heaven with Him, but we cannot take our selfishness, idolatrous, and lying ways with us.  We have to grow in morality, in loving-kindness, and in holiness.  Our hearts must burn with loving-kindness for one another just like the Sacred Heart of Christ our Lord.  We may live our homely humble Anglican lives, but all our domestic virtue is but a sensible and decent overflow from the burning furnace of divine love in our hearts.

Here at St. Luke Church, we are more than our members, for we are members of Christ.  Even if we were the weakest and most sinful folk, Christ would still truly be here among us because He is God.  Still, Christ calls us to be perfect as He is perfect.  We, grafted onto Christ, are to become as pure and virtuous and holy as Christ.  We must each work on ourselves in this great community we have here.

The whole parish grows healthier and stronger the more we each grow healthier and stronger in the Lord.  The more we improve our lives, the more we fast according to the rule of Holy Church, the more we attend Mass as we ought, the more we say our prayers and read the Scriptures in between Sundays, the more we all grow.  The more we love our God and love our neighbors, our parish grows into a more loving parish.

Different members have different concerns, but there is one answer which addresses everyone’s concern:  Christ.  He is God come down amongst us to raise us up with Him to live with God the Father forever.  Our spiritual ancestors walked in the cool of the garden with God.  You and I will also walk with God after Christ returns.

But we mustn’t presume to be saved.  God has given us great work to do.  And in true Anglican manner, our great work is quite humble.  You and I are to look each other in the eye, to know one another, and to love each other.  You and I are to stand facing the same direction and worship God together.  We are not Hindus who look to wash in the River Ganges.  We are not Moslems who must visit the Black Stone in Mecca.  We are humble sinners, washed in the Blood of Christ, strengthened in the Holy Ghost, and we come together before the altar of God to eat the Body and Blood of Christ our Lord.

Through repentance of our sins, sacramental grace, and self-discipline let us cultivate our spiritual life according to Holy Church so that from the well-tended garden of our hearts comes forth those fruits of the spirit in which progress towards perfection declares itself.  To those who live in those fruits of the spirit come the blessings of the Beatitudes, which indeed are preliminary to the joys of the world to come.

 

“by their fruits ye shall know them. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”

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

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“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

Being Sent

THE same day at evening, being the first day of the week….  This first verse shows that the Church has gathered and worshipped together on the Lord’s Day beginning with that very first Easter.

St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of the Apostle John whom the Romans martyred in AD 117, wrote in his Epistle to the Magnesians:

“…those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death….”

The Vigil of Sunday is Saturday night, so there was likely some stages in between our neighbors’ synagogue worship on Saturday morning and our Church worship on Sunday morning.  The Vigil of Easter takes place on Saturday evening, which is the third Jewish liturgical day of Christ’s death.  The Jewish day begins at nightfall.  But the day Christians worship is invariably Sunday.

The doors were shut can also be translated the doors were locked.  St. John says here that the disciples feared the Jews, but they feared the Romans as well.  Their leader, the Christ, had been taken from them.  They were afraid.  If we no longer had Christ, if we lost faith in Christ, we too would be afraid.

Today we keep our church doors unlocked so that anyone off the street (we earnestly hope!) might come in and worship God with us.  But the disciples kept their doors shut and locked to protect themselves from danger.

In other parts of the world, Christian congregations have to post guards.  In one of our parishes in Pakistan, the priest’s son keeps guard with an AK-47 in case Moslem terrorists attack.  Our parishes in the Congo have faced attack, and at least one of them has been completely wiped out – raped and murdered.  We ought to give thanks to our good God that we do not have such problems here.  While being thankful, we should also remain vigilant that such attacks upon the peaceful practice of religion are defended against here.

Peace be unto you is a standard rabbinical greeting.  But it is also used in Judges vi.23 and Daniel x.19 when angels visited the frightened Gideon and Daniel.  Since the disciples are afraid, Christ speaking this privileged religious greeting to them is most appropriate.

As with Gideon and Daniel, the moment of this greeting is important.  Christ is declaring His peace to His disciples.  Christ, being God made man, who was killed and yet triumphed over the grave, has created an eschatological peace, a peace for the end of time, a peace for the disciples and all others as well.

The terrors and sorrows of death, of sickness, of grief are put to bed with their defeat by our King and our God.  We are promised the peace that passeth all understanding.  This peace is not a simple hello; it is not just a comfort and joy amidst grief and fear; no, this peace is a deep permanent peace which will follow you to the grave and out the other side into Resurrection!

Earlier in St. John xiv.27, Christ says:  “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”  Peace here is not a worldly peace which is a mere respite from trouble; this is an eternal peace which is a gift from Heaven.  With the reception of the Holy Ghost, Christ’s peace becomes something that not only lives inside each of disciples but which they take out into the world.

And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side.  Later in verse 25, Christ shows the disciples the nail holes in His hands and the lance wound from His side.  Christ comes to them, gives them His peace, and shows these frightened disciples His sacred wounds.

St. Luke xxiv.39 mentions His hands and feet.  Two hands plus two feet plus one side equals the five wounds of Christ.  If you cross yourself with your hand flat, you are using all five fingers.  Upon my ordination, I changed how I held my hand when I crossed myself so to remember the five wounds of Christ, the wounds Christ suffered when He gave Himself up for me and for you.

After years of modern scholars dismissing the nailing of feet by Romans during First-Century crucifixions, archaeological evidence was found in 1968 showing nail holes in the ankles of one crucified.  As to the objection that nails in the hands would not have held victims up, both the Greek and Hebrew words for hands could also refer to wrists and forearms or lower legs.  The five wounds of Christ are real, despite what skeptics and non-traditional Christians say.  Christ suffered those for us, died, and then rose again.  Here in today’s Gospel, the disciples see it for themselves with their own eyes, and St. John bears testimony to this across nineteen hundred years.

Christ shows the disciples His Body, showing the physical evidence of the continuity of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.  Theologically, we understand that the Resurrection completes the Crucifixion.  Liturgically, Easter follows Good Friday.  But Christ shows our spiritual ancestors physical evidence of the bodily continuity of Christ’s Body in life, in death, and in Resurrection.

Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord.  Of course they were!  Imagine their emotions as their human minds tried to sort out the miraculous workings of God.  Their hearts had been up, down, and all around those last few days.  Now, they have proof that their Christ Who died on the Cross was the very same Who stood before them in the flesh — alive!  The wounds proved it so.

And now, St. John switches terms.  After the Resurrection, St. John begins referring to Christ in His Gospel as the Lord.  Christ is our Lord.  We know that.  But for those who walked with Him for years, they had to learn that.

And lest we forget, those around us who do not have the sweet consolation of Christ in their lives must also learn for themselves that Christ is the Lord.  They will watch you.  They might imitate you, especially if they are children.  They might test you if they are family or friends.  But either way, they will watch you for signs of the Resurrection life in your life.

If you see Christ, if you see Him in life, if you visit Him in His Passion, if you watch Him die, if you mourn for Him, and then if you rejoice in His Resurrection and accept the Peace of the Lord, then you will be different, and those out hurting and grieving in this sinful and broken world will see that difference for themselves.  And with God’s grace, they will want to share in that Resurrection life as well.

As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.  This closely parallels St. John xvii.18, when Christ prays to the Father, “As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.”  The word apostle means one who is sent.  The disciples in a sense become apostles here, for they shall bear Christ into the world.  They continue the mission of God the Son into the world.  Christ bears witness to the Father, and the apostles bear witness to the Son.

The continuation of the Resurrection is the evangelization of the entire world.  Our sharing the Good News is an extension of Christ’s Resurrection.  The living out in our lives loving-kindness and communion with God brings forth Christ’s Resurrection into the lives of those who did not experience it themselves.  We continue, we carry on, that which has been given to us.  Like as we have mothers and fathers, so we bring forth children who themselves become fathers and mothers.  I may not have earthly children, but I may have spiritual children.  Likewise, he who has earthly children may be destitute of spiritual children.

And when he had said this, he breathed on them….  God breathes the breath of life into Adam in Genesis ii.7.  Some ancients at that time held that the breath of a holy man had great power.  Christ certainly has great power.

The filioque clause of the Nicene Creed which we say every Sunday means from the son.  The Creed in its Western revised form we use says that the Holy Ghost proceeds from the Father and from the Son.  This verse is evidence that the Holy Ghost does in fact proceed forth from the Son, but not necessarily in the same way as from the Father.  We could change the Creed back to the way it was and drop this and be fine, but we are not incorrect in saying that the Son sends the Holy Ghost into the world.

Receive ye the Holy Ghost:  But wait:  The Holy Ghost comes upon the Apostles and Blessed Virgin Mary at Pentecost according to St. Luke in the Acts of the Apostles!  What does this mean?

The Second Council of Constantinople, being the fifth Ecumenical Council, condemned the view of Theodore of Mopsuestia.  Theodore held that Christ did not really impart the gift of the Holy Ghost upon the Apostles on the night of Easter.  This is contradicted right here in St. John’s Gospel.

St. John Chrysostom preached that this gift of the Holy Ghost empowered the forgiveness of sins while the gift of the Holy Ghost at Pentecost in Acts gave “the power to work miracles and raise the dead.”  Others have made different suggestions, but the fact here is that He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost.  Christ gives the Holy Ghost to those who will preach His Gospel and …

Whosesoever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whosesoever sins ye retain, they are retained.  This Authorized Version translation wisely shows these sentences in passive voice.  That is, these things are done, but it does not say who does the doing of them.  This is important, for when a priest says that he forgives you your sins, technically he is authoritatively declaring that your sins are forgiven.  And they are forgiven.

But God is the actor, not the priest, not the apostle.  When a bishop as the successor of the apostles, and priests as his parish agents, forgive sins or do not forgive sins, then so those sins are forgiven or not forgiven.  But the apostle, the bishop, and the priest are agents of God, and God is the one who completes the action.  This is the Sacramental grace of Penance or Confession.

The role of the forgiveness or retention of sins, as well as of binding and loosing, directly supports the command to take the Gospel to all nations, to be sent as Christ has been sent.  The world is to be freed from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  Souls will be saved, people will be liberated, sins will be forgiven, and loving-kindness shall rule all relationships upon the preaching of the Good News of Jesus Christ!

 

“Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you.”

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

 

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“Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

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

 

The Feast of the Annunciation is popularly called “Lady Day”, although it is a feast of our Lord.  The date derives from an ancient idea, that you died on the day of your conception.  Through figuring, early Christians thought that Christ died on March 25th, which meant His incarnation took place on March 25th.  This led to December 25th as His birthday and to June 24th as the date of the conception and death of St. John Baptist.  Despite early medieval attempts to move the feast outside of Lent, the original date prevailed.

From 1066 to 1752, the English held March 25th as New Year’s Day.  Blessed Richard Hooker in his Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity during Elizabethan times wrote, “We begin therefore our ecclesiastical year with the glorious annunciation of his birth by angelical embassage.”  For nearly 700 years, New Year’s Day was today.  Can you imagine?

 

Our Lady was a woman amongst men, poor amongst powerful, young amongst those wizened in years, and unmarried amongst married.  She was faithful, but she was the least of the Jews.  And yet, through her faithfulness and obedience to God, she becomes the greatest of all people, men or women, who have ever lived who were not God Incarnate.

St. Gabriel tells her that God has “highly favored” her amongst all other people.  You see, God heaps blessings on those the world despises.  We see with the eyes of this world, of this culture, and yet God despises our order and our values except insofar as they conform to him.  God blesses those whom he finds worthy and not those whom the world bathes with awards, treasure, and honor.  “Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.” says Christ.  And again He says, “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven.”  And in the Old Testament, Isaiah lv.9:  “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

St. Mary’s response in great faith made her in the Holy Ghost a vessel through which God the Father poured God the Son into the world.  The Blessed Virgin, though a creature, though our sister through Adam and Eve, became a vital and critically important part of God’s salvation of all the world and all mankind.  We owe a great debt of thanks to her, but she gave it all up to God, and she would have us give it all up to God.  When we submit ourselves to our loving and almighty God, the greatest things in Heaven and Earth can happen.  Again and again, we see in Sacred Scripture God raising up men and women to fulfill his righteous will amongst us.  Since we are created in God’s image and redeemed by God’s Son, we are important.  As obedient to God’s will, we act vitally important.

 

The Blessed Virgin’s obedience did not lead to happiness unbounded.  Remember her mourning at the Cross?  Remember St. Simeon in St. Luke ii.35 prophesying, “Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also”?  She gave birth, not in the inn, but in the stables.  They could only afford the sacrifice of the poor when they presented Christ to the Temple.  She and Joseph fled with Christ to Egypt to save His life.  She saw the priests and scribes conspire to kill Him.  And yes, she was there at Pentecost as well.  She lived a blessed life, but she lived neither a sumptuous or easy life.

We think that God’s blessing will bring prosperity and joy, but often God’s blessing brings hard, difficult, and painful work.  Death and suffering accompany us on the journey Godward.

Those with easy lives might think they have gotten away with a well-lived life, when they have done nothing.  Those who have faced an uphill battle through trial and tribulation may cry out for a rest, but may indeed have won a crown.

And note that heavenly visits inspire fear and wonder.  We want to see an angel to comfort us and to strengthen our faith, but indeed we may cower in fear upon the sight of one.  We pray for divine guidance, but find that truly divine guidance will lead us into danger and out of worldly prosperity.  Our simple earthly minds cannot fathom nor comprehend the immense and profound wonder that a heavenly being such as St. Gabriel would have upon us.

Never doubt the courage of the Virgin when she placed herself into God’s hands during the visit by the angel.  Such an overwhelming and scary experience for a young woman!  But perhaps this is what our Lord meant when He said that we had to become as little children to enter into the Kingdom of God.  He would have us remain innocent and open to fantastic experience, not hardened and jaded like we had earned every year of our life through hard work and bitter disappointment.

And if anything can happen, then what is next?  Probably not what we expect.  The faithful Christian should have a heart like St. Mary, open to the unbelievable possibilities of Almighty God, our Heavenly Father.  We must truly believe that the Holy Ghost can do all things.  We must truly believe that Christ is one of us and lived a life amongst us.  We must believe in miracles and goodness and holiness and not insist upon having things our way.

 

As we are all brothers of Christ through adoption, and since we enter into eternal life through Christ, so we may faithfully and truly say that the Blessed Virgin Mary is the mother of us all.  Christ saying to St. John from the Cross, “behold your mother”, and saying to his mother from the Cross, “behold your son”, is the symbol of this truth.

Moreover, St. Mary had the Lord inside of her just as the Messiah was within Israel, and Christ came forth from His mother just as out of Israel the Messiah came forth.

As the Blessed Virgin Mary is our mother and as she is a type of Israel, so she is a type of Holy Church.  Through our mother Holy Church, we are birthed into new life.  Thus Christians may call St. Mary our mother as well.  It is as St. Mary as mother of us who through obedience allowed salvation into the world through Christ flips the work of Eve, who though mother of us all, allowed sin into the world through Adam.

 

In the lady parts of our Lady, God the Son became Incarnate Body and Blood, anticipating and prefiguring how this bread and wine shall become the Body and Blood of Christ for us to eat and drink on God’s altar in just a few minutes.  St. John Baptist leapt in his mother’s womb when he encountered our Lord Jesus in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  So we bow and kneel before Christ in His Blessed Sacrament of the Altar.  And the Blessed Virgin helped make it happen.

If you love Jesus, you have to love His mama, for He certainly did.  If you would love like Christ loves, you would love the Blessed Virgin Mary.  But if somehow you love the Blessed Virgin more than Christ, she would be the first one to correct you and point you to her Son, for she followed Him, and obeyed Him, and was there at the Cross and on Pentecost.

 

The Blessed Virgin Mary shows us that God chooses the weak of this world, shows us that following God can be costly, and shows us that she is our mother as well as our sister.  But most importantly, the Blessed Virgin is the model for Christian discipleship.

“Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” This is the model of the humble and faithful Christian’s prayer, placing himself under God’s will.

Father Massey Shepherd said that St. Mary is the “perfect example of a humble acceptance of God’s favor and a ready and trusting obedience to His will.  Here, indeed, one witnesses in purest form the self-giving response of a human life to the redeeming purpose of God.”

St. Mary is told she will be the mother of the Son of the Highest, and yet she makes no grand claims.  She calls herself handmaiden, a servant, chosen by another.  How often does God give us something small and we claim something big?  How often do we boast of our station or wealth or knowledge or capabilities when it all came from our good God and we earned so very little of it?  Give God the glory!  We should learn from her.

And then she wishes that God’s will be done, foreshadowing Christ’s teaching of that in his prayer, “Thy will be done.”  The Blessed Virgin teaches us how to behave before our Lord God.  She is the prototypical Christian, our mother by example if our sister by birth.

St. Mary’s “yes”, as well as our “yes”, is only the beginning of a marvelous and gracious journey of faith.  In the Gospel and the mission of the Church, each moment opens with opportunities to follow Christ, obey God, and spread the Gospel.  Like St. Mary, our obedience to God should form our essential identity in Christ.

What St. Mary started at home one day by emptying herself to God before St. Gabriel culminated in Christ emptying Himself on the hard wood of the Cross that dark day upon the hilltop.  We empty ourselves for God, not negotiating and wheedling with him about what pet trifles we might keep.  Jesus says in St. Luke’s Gospel, “No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We surrender all to God.  We obey God.  We follow God.  We empty ourselves for God.  God is all we have, for we and all we have come from him.

 

“Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

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

 

 

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