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Posts Tagged ‘Holy Eucharist’

In the Collect for Advent, 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 Heaven”

A wonderful Christmas hymn by Blessed Charles Wesley concludes with this stanza:

Made perfect first in love,
And sanctified by grace,
We shall from earth remove,
And see His glorious face:
His love shall then be fully showed,
And man shall all be lost in God.

We will experience Heaven as being lost in God; solely desiring Him and living with Him; detached entirely from the things of this broken and corrupt world.

Father Paul Raftery said:

Man is made for union with God. The fulfillment of this union comes in heaven. Only there will the human creature, into which God has placed a profound desire for Himself, have the satisfaction of all its hopes and desires. All the limited goods of this world cannot touch the desire for God that He has place within us. Nor can we simply turn off this desire. It is fixed within us, an irrevocable part of our nature.

Heaven is eternal presence of God.  God created all good things.  Only perfect things and imperfect things exist.  We are fooled by imperfect things to not follow God.  Thus we say with Hank Williams, Jr., “If Heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.”  But God eternally satisfies us; he made us this way.  The real attraction of ourselves to a broken thing is in how that imperfect thing shows off God to us.

Today, we are confused why Heaven can be so delightful because we are confused in our attachment to the world.  Our spiritual work as we mature in Christ is to detach from earthly things and see the sweetness of God.  As we walk the Christian Way, we increasingly understand that our true desire is for God.  We will thus eagerly desire to live with Him for all eternity.

So we must lose our attachment to the broken things of God and the lusts thereof (“the world”) which is done by attacking our lusts of those things (“the flesh”).  Thus we must battle our flesh in order to get ready for Heaven.

 

Now we do not battle our flesh by ourselves and thereby gain Heaven.  Not at all.  We are Christians, not Buddhists.  St. John iii.16 reads, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Christ our Lord came down from Heaven and was born a little baby on Christmas day over two thousand years ago.  He defeated sin and death by His Crucifixion and Resurrection and prepared a place for us in Heaven in the Ascension.  In our Baptism, we connect to Christ in His death and Resurrection, so we can enter wrapped in Christ into Heaven.  We are part of Christ.  We are made holy through Christ in Holy Baptism, the Holy Eucharist, and the other Sacraments.

About the Holy Communion, Christ says in St. John vi.53:  “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.”  So we know from Scripture that we ought to follow the precepts of the Church and communicate regularly.  Indeed, to be a member in good standing, you must eat Christ’s Body and drink His Blood at least three times a year.  This is one of the Six Duties of Churchmen.

Besides Holy Baptism and the Mass, we are brought into Christ through His other Sacraments.  If married, we ought to be married in Holy Church.  We ought to use Confession as required.  We ought to be Confirmed.  We ought to receive Unction if necessary.  We ought to be Ordained if so called.  These are all sure and certain means of grace which help unite us to Christ.

 

Besides the Sacramental means of grace, in order to gain Heaven we must live our lives in this world in keeping with our divine calling.  We are to imitate Christ.  Christ is without blemish and without flaw.  But we are well blemished and deeply flawed.  What are we to do?

Christ tells us in St. Matthew v.48, “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”  In order to perfectly love and to live without sin, there are three things we must do.

First, we must keep the Ten Commandments and other matters of moral law, including the Church’s Law of Marriage to keep sexual purity.  Thus we try to obey God’s will.

Second, we must repent of our sins when we fall, using the Sacrament of Penance when necessary, and firmly resolve not to commit those sins again, even when we keep falling into the same sins.

Taken together, these first two non-Sacramental actions are also two of the Six Duties of Churchmen:  Keeping a clean conscience and keeping the Church’s Law of Marriage.

But the things of this world are lovely and sweet because they are created by God.  Foolishly, we chase them instead of living holy lives.  So the third thing we ought to do after the Sacraments is to break our attachment to the good things which God has made.  This is called mortification.

Mortifying ourselves means living a life of countless little deaths of our own pleasure and our own will so that we may clear our minds of our inordinate love – that is, our love which is out of order – for this world so we can focus on loving God.

So mortification is essential to living with God in Heaven forever.  While we have time on God’s green Earth, we must demonstrate that we chose God instead of his good things.

There are three ways we may mortify ourselves.  First, we fast.  Second, we give alms.  Third, we offer to God things which are perfectly legitimate for us to use.  Notice again that both fasting and almsgiving are found in the Six Duties of Churchmen.  There is a reason why the Six Duties are the irreducible minimum of the practice of the Christian Faith.

The reason why the Scriptures and Church tell us to fast and give alms is not to lose weight, control diabetes, and help make sure someone else gets the food they need to eat.  Those are good goals, but those are worldly reasons to fast and donate to a good cause.

The spiritual point of fasting and giving alms is to recollect that our bodies and wealth are God’s good gift and belong to him, and that our bodies and wealth should be used to glorify God and not ourselves.  So we fast and we give alms, mortifying our bodies and souls.

Our bodies and wealth are good things, but we curtail them for the glory of God.  It is okay for us to have that cookie and to buy something for ourselves, but by not eating that cookie and giving someone else the money we wanted to spend on ourselves, we thwart or deny our own appetites for God’s sake.  In the Holy Ghost, we tame our passions.  In a tiny way, we join in Christ’s Passion and Crucifixion.

But we can mortify ourselves beyond fasting and almsgiving.  We can willingly offer up to God those things which are perfectly okay for us to enjoy.  I do not mean sinful things which we must give up, but things which we peculiarly enjoy.

An example of this is giving up chocolate for Lent.  We are supposed to fast and give alms during Lent, but we are allowed to do something extra.  Chocolate is a good thing which God has given us.  Some of us like chocolate very much.  For us to willingly offer our temporary abstinence from enjoying the pleasures of chocolate to tame our appetites and show God our thanks is a laudable and praiseworthy task if it is wisely and prudently done.

But giving up chocolate while in the ninth month of pregnancy, immediately after having lost a job or parent, or during a divorce is probably not a good idea.  Mortification has not the urgency which undergoing Holy Baptism and receiving Holy Communion have.

Along with trying to live a righteous life and repenting of sin, putting our wills and appetites to death over and over is a vital and important part of spiritual growth.  Indeed, we cannot really grow in Christ unless we fast, give alms, and deny our wills and appetites on occasion.

 

This week is Embertide in the holy season of Advent, three days of special fasting and abstinence.  Let us fast, give alms, and work at mortifying our will so that we may ably assist the Holy Ghost in breaking the world’s hold upon us so that we may thoroughly thirst for Christ.

 

In the Collect for Advent, 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.

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“A certain man made a great supper.”

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

 

We may read earlier in St. Luke’s Gospel: “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

We are each called to the great supper of the eternal good host.  Yet as we see in the Holy Gospel, not all who are called respond to that call.  The Holy Ghost prompts each and every one of us to respond to the call of God, but we are not all equally responsive.

In the context of Christ’s own time, the original invitation is for the pious Jews, the second invitation to the “the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind” in the “streets and lanes of the city” is for the impious Jews, and the last invitation to the riffraff out in the “the high-ways and hedges” is for the Gentiles, in other words, folks like us. This is our place in salvation history. Put all together, all the guests who attend become the reconstituted Israel, the new Church.

Considering it thusly, those of us sitting here today would not have identified with the fancy people first invited who rejected their invitations, nor even with the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame who were invited in their stead, but rather with the country bumpkins. We are the bums. But, we are bums invited to an incredible feast. Our thanks and praise should echo from the highest heavens! We who are last are coming to a magnificent banquet which will satisfy our every need, will make us whole, will change our lives.

There is no shame in not being called first so long as one comes when called. Here’s an example of being called first, second, and last.

That part of the universal Church of Christ called the Church of England stopped obeying the Church of Rome in the Sixteenth Century. The Church of England carried on the ministry and work and witness of the one ancient Apostolic and Catholic Church for generations. When England made her colonies, the Church of England was right there with them. St. Paul’s Church downtown was part of the Church of England when she was founded. These American Anglican parishes suffered a break from the Church of England as our nation won her independence and then reconstituted themselves as the Protestant Episcopal Church.

As the Episcopal Church, God’s great banquet was fully spread for generations in America, until most of the members of it made their excuses not to come to God’s great spread.  That was when we, the Anglican Catholic Church, the faithful remnant of the worldwide Anglican Church, sprang forth at the great Congress of St. Louis to continue the apostolic and catholic work of the Anglican Church as handed to us by the Episcopal Church and the Church of England.  The continuation of grace and glory of the Anglican Church as handed to us by the Episcopal Church and the Church of England puts us not in the first call nor the second call, but firmly in the third call.

Although as Christians in general and Anglicans in particular we are part of the last call, yet we have much to learn from those first few who threw away their good invitation.

A great book title I saw many years ago was Yes, Lord, I Have Sinned: But I Have Several Excellent Excuses. There are always excuses if you roll up your sleeves and diligently apply yourself to look for one or are creative enough to invent one.

Back to the Gospel lesson, all who made excuses from attending the great supper did not make sinful excuses. The matters involved were innocent. But, their excuses showed their deep involvement and complicity in the world. The host did not demand that they give up these pursuits, but the invited guests would rather do their business than come to the supper. They did not have to do those things at that time, but they choose to do them then instead of later.

The guests who would not come had different reasons but the same heart: They put themselves first. These things were lawful in themselves, but by the actions of their hearts these things became stumbling blocks. As Father Melville Scott put it, “There is room at the feast, but no room in their hearts.”

In our everyday lives, we have many things which must be done: groceries, work, laundry, family, driving, eating, sleeping, bathing. And these things are all quite decent in themselves. However, each day we suffer the temptation to place these decent things above the things of God, beyond the invitation by God to sup with him. And that is the time when those otherwise good things become stumbling blocks, temptations to serve ourselves before our good God, to put our hand to the plough and look back.

It would be funny if it were not true. Worldly and unimportant things demand our immediate attention when God comes calling. John Wesley said, “The most urgent worldly affairs frequently fall out just at the time when God makes the freest offers of salvation.”

These excuses show how much we are tangled up in owning things and relationships with persons other than God. We cannot hear the call of God amidst all the noise. Invited, the first guests had agreed to come, but when the time came to bathe and dress and set out, they made their excuses. Instead of responding to the call of God, we keep our head down and our mouth busy addressing things of our own interest.

My old professor Luke Timothy Johnson wrote:

“[T]he call of God issued by the prophet must relativize all other claims on life. The parable shows how entanglement with persons and things can in effect be a refusal of the invitation. The demands make clear that the choice for discipleship demands precisely the choice against a complete involvement in possessions or people. There is little that is gentle or reassuring in this.”

This cold realization of our own propensity to wander is good to keep in mind when we consider that God invites us to the greatest feast of all, the Body and Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Every human being is invited to come, and when those who are bidden refuse to come due to their selfish choices, then God will find others to take their place and reject the ones who rejected him. It is not so much that God damns people as people damn themselves. But in the face of the damned, others will be called to take their place, for God would have everyone, even those whom we despise, partake of the great feast.

God says in the Revelation of St. John the Divine: “Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb” (Rev. xix. 9.)

One of our obligations as Christians is to attend Mass every Sunday.  As a measure of mercy, those who cannot make their Sunday duty may attend a weekday service.  The Lord has prepared the greatest feast ever known – the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, Who gave Himself to us for our salvation, not when we asked for it, not when we deserved it, but rather when in the fullness of time He came down from Heaven and was made incarnate in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Incarnate means “in the flesh”, but we could more literally read it as “in the meat”.  Christ took on meat for us and then gave us Himself as a holy meal.  Adam ate the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the Garden of Eden, disobeying God and bringing the curse of sin and pain and isolation and sickness and disease and separation from God and death upon all our heads.  The New Adam, Jesus Christ the Righteous, came down from Heaven and gave us His very Flesh and Blood as a consecrated meal to counteract and remedy Adam’s Fall.  Christ provides the cure for our grave disease of sin and death, and that cure is found in His very Incarnate Body, wherein God became Man and so saved us all.

Yes, one of the most basic obligations of the Christian is to attend the Holy Eucharist every Sunday.  Yes, sometimes we’re sick; sometimes our car breaks down; sometimes we have work.  But we are obliged to God the Father, creator of Heaven and Earth, to pay attention to the Son of God and partake of the mysteries of His Body and Blood every week.

Now, we do not need to actually eat His Body and drink His Blood every week.  Sometimes we are not in loving-kindness with our neighbors; sometimes we have unrepentant sin.  To eat His Body and drink His Blood when we are willfully engaging in sin and refusing to repent of it is to eat and drink to our damnation.  We rightfully abstain from receiving the Holy Communion when we are out of sorts with God and our fellow man.  Yet as Christians we are obliged to receive Christ’s Body and Blood at least three times a year.  But we give God the glory when we faithfully attend the Holy Mass even when we do not receive.

We must give of ourselves to Him who gave Himself to us. This mutual giving of self is the essence of loving-kindness, the sacrificial love which is the highest and most noble and honorable love of all.

You and I can only invite so many people to our home for a feast lest we run out of room. But the heavenly banqueter can and does invite everybody to the great feast. There is plenty of room for everyone. There is no lack; there is only abundance. The more we promote each other’s happiness, the more happiness there is for everyone. The more we love each other, the more love there is amongst us all. The more we give of ourselves to God and to our neighbor, the more we love in the pureness of loving-kindness. It is here that we best remember, in the words of St. John, that God is love.

Outside of sacred Scripture, I can think of no better words that the words of Blessed George Herbert, Seventeenth-Century Anglican country priest and poet, in his poem, Love (III):

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

“A guest,” I answer’d, “worthy to be here”;
Love said, “You shall be he.”
“I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee.”
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
“Who made the eyes but I?”

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

 

“A certain man made a great supper.”

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

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