The Solemnity of Corpus Christi~The Body and Blood of Christ ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Liturgical colour: White.

Reading 1: GN 14:18-20

Responsorial Psalm: PS 110:1, 2, 3, 4

Reading 2: 1 COR 11:23-26

Gospel: LK 9:11B-17

When many think of The body and blood of our dear Lord Jesus Christ, they usually think of the Holy Eucharist we take during Mass. Yes of course the Holy Eucharist is indeed one important part, but is by no means all that today’s Solemnity represents.

In our Catholic Tradition we use the term ‘ The Body Of Christ’ in three totally separate but yet interconnecting ways. The first way we use it is to refer to Our Lord Jesus himself, we stress the full humanity of the Incarnate Son of God. He was formed in his mother’s womb, He was born and grew just as we do. He touched the untouchable leper with his human yet godly hands. He walked through the towns, villages and fields of his native land. He spoke God’s word in a human way. He ate and drank as we do. He suffered like we do. He was tortured, he was crucified for our sins and he was suffered bodily death and burial.

But Our Lord Jesus is no longer dead, He is Risen and is glorified in his body. He is no longer bound by earthly  time as we are, and as he himself was in his earthly life. He is alive and with us. He is the Lord actively reigning in his own creation.

The second usage we have is to refer to the humanity, the men and women and children who form the embodying of the life of Jesus in each and every generation, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Jesus, our living Lord, is the Head of his Body the Church. By baptism every Christian has the serious vocation of being the embodying of Jesus in whichever place, situation and time of their own lived life. Through our human bodies we are to make present his kingdom and to reveal his presence. As Christians, we are not here  to say that ‘we are here in place of Christ’ but rather that ‘In this place where we are, Christ is also  in this place’.

What is true of the individual Christian is even more vibrantly true of the complete Body of Christians who are under the active Headship of the Risen lord Jesus. Every church community, or any other gathering of Christians, has the on-going duty of being an embodying of Jesus in this particular place and in this particular time. It is the individuality of each Christian life that is essential in the building up of the Church and of the fruitfulness of its mission

But how are we to be able to live up to this our calling unless we are constantly nourished by Jesus himself? Hence our third usage of ‘The Body – and Blood – of Christ’ is to refer to the celebration of the Eucharist at the heart of every Christian community. ‘The Eucharist makes the Church, and the Church makes the Eucharist’. The Eucharist is medicinal and healing, it is also the power for our mission. Whereas other food is eaten so that it becomes us, with this food which Jesus himself gives us we become him because it is him which we are truly receiving.

So all three meanings come together, three separate but united parts..three in one, in a similar way to the three in one of The Holy Trinity. Our Lord Jesus which we read about in the gospel, truly gives himself to us so that we might become him and we become members one of another in the holy communion and mission of his Holy Church:

As I who am sent by the Father, myself draw life from the Father, so whoever eats me will draw life from me.

This communion and mission is itself embodied in our Tradition history as the one holy catholic and apostolic church we proclaim in the Creed. We are not just in communion with those we who are currently present in our church or at our work, but with all the men and women whom we will never meet, those who speak in languages which we will never understand, who are praying for us as we are praying for them in the one Body of Christ. And as Jesus is Lord of both the living and the dead, so the dead too form one Body with us.

At the heart of this communion is the sacrifice of Calvary, the broken, tortured, crucified body and the shedding of the blood of Christ’s love for the world. This sacrifice of Calvary can never cease in its power. It eternally throbs through every atom of creation and throughout every second of time. But Jesus’s priestly work continues. He is our Eternal High Priest and the Everlasting Victim for our sins, enabling our salvation. In our sacrifice of the Mass we repeatedly re-enter into Our Lord’s self offering to the Father. In the prayers around the consecration of the Eucharist, we place our prayers of thanksgiving and of petition for the living and the dead into his one Calvary Prayer. Within our worship of the Body and Blood of the Lord present on the altar, we place our own self-offering sacrifice of our Christian bodily life.

I appeal to you dear brothers  and sisters by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Rom 12.1)

All our Christian activity is taken up into the Eucharist just as the Eucharist is at the same point the nourishment of our hope and our courage and our salvation ‘until the Lord returns’. Our daily prayerfulness within Christ includes all creation as we pray ‘in the name of everything under heaven’ and we pray

Father may this sacrifice which has made our peace with you, advance the peace and salvation of all the world.

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Three In One??? Trinity Sunday ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

Today is Trinity Sunday.

Trinity Sunday is a difficult day for priests, who often feel they have to try to explain the idea of God as Trinity. It’s sometimes an even more difficult day for our parishioners, because they have to listen to us priests, trying to explain the Trinity. It’s a difficult day for priests because we find we have to talk about God. You may think we are always talking about God, but in my experience most of us actually talk rather little about God. We talk a lot about what God wants of us. We talk even more of what God has done for us and is doing for us. That, after all, is the Gospel. But we don’t talk very much about who God is. Perhaps they leave that to the liturgy and the hymns, which probably do it better than sermons usually can.

Have you ever tried to express your feelings when you feel something very deeply? That’s what usually happens when we talk about God, really talk about God, actually trying to say who God is – this is one of those times when language fails us. The only words you can find are terribly makeshift, totally inadequate, and not at all what you want to express, but you must use what you’ve got and try to express yourself. Not to say anything would be worse. You must say what you can and hope the words point to what you can’t really say. So it is with the Trinity. There are several Christian ways of trying to say who God is. The one that says the most about God is the one we use in the creeds, when we say we believe in God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. God is those Three and the Three are one God. The Christian shorthand for that is: God is Trinity. But if that says the most about God, it is also the most difficult thing Christians say about God.

How to explain the Trinity? We haven’t done that yet, simply because we can’t wrap our heads around the concept. The story is told of St Augustine of Hippo, the great philosopher and theologian. He was preoccupied with the doctrine of the Trinity. He wanted so much to understand the doctrine of one God in three persons and to be able to explain it logically. One day he was walking along the sea shore and trying to understand just how one God can be in three persons. Suddenly, he saw a child all alone on the shore. The child made a hole in the sand, ran to the sea with a little cup, filled her cup with sea water, ran up and emptied the cup into the hole she had made in the sand. Back and forth she went to the sea, filled her cup and went and poured it into the hole. Augustine drew up and said to her, “Little child, what are you doing?” She replied, “I am trying to empty the sea into this hole.” “How do you think,” Augustine asked her, “that you can empty this immense sea into this tiny hole and with this tiny cup?” She answered back, “And you, how do you suppose that with your small head you can comprehend the immensity of God?” With that the child disappeared.

The doctrine of the inner relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in such a way that each of them is fully and equally God, yet there are not three Gods but one, cannot be fully comprehended by the human mind. It is a mystery. But, we continue to try. St. Patrick certainly did it his best. He gave us a visual example in the shamrock or three leaf clover. As the shamrock is one composed of three, so, he said, is the Trinity: Three in One and One in Three. In the story of salvation we usually attribute creation to the Father, redemption to the Son and sanctification to the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, though they are distinct as persons, neither the Father nor the Son nor the Holy Spirit ever exists or acts in isolation from the other two persons of the Godhead, just as a three leaf clover without all three leaves is incomplete.

If we expected today’s readings to give us a clear and elaborate presentation of the doctrine of the Blessed Trinity, we have found out that they simply do not. The doctrine of three persons in one God, equal in divinity yet distinct in personality, is not explicitly spelled out in the Bible. In fact the very word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. Early Christians arrived at the doctrine when they applied their God-given reason to the revelation which they had received in faith. Jesus spoke about the Father who sent him (the Son) and about the Holy Spirit whom he was going to send. He said that the Father had given him (the Son) all that he has and that he in turn has given to the Holy Spirit all that he has received from the Father. In this we see the unity of purpose among the three persons of the Trinity.

We believe in the Triune God, and to embrace a doctrine we cannot fully comprehend or explain. It is another thing entirely to base our understanding of God on what we see God doing. So, let me make the most important statement about the Trinity that I can make, and that is — Our understanding of the Trinity, or as much as we can understand of the Trinity, is based on what we see God has done and is doing in the world. Let me give you some examples.

In the Old Testament, God is Creator of both the world, and of the nation of Israel through whom he will bless the world. Of course, God is present as Spirit, and the Messiah is both prophesied and foreshadowed in various theophanies (appearances of God, such as the angel who wrestles with Jacob). But primary on the stage of the unfolding drama of the Old Testament is the God of Israel, Yahweh, El-Shaddai, Elohim, Adonai, and all the other names by which God is called and worshipped.

In the New Testament Gospel accounts, the emphasis is upon Jesus — his birth, his baptism, his message, his life, his death, and his resurrection. But God the Father approves his Son, and the Holy Spirit descends upon — anoints — Jesus for ministry.

In the New Testament Book of Acts and the epistles, the Holy Spirit is at the forefront, equipping, enabling, guiding, empowering the early church. In the Book of Revelation, God the Father, Son, and Spirit are all present, each featured in a way that is both consistent with the Old Testament, witnesses to the New Testament, and brings fully into being the Kingdom of God in its closing chapters.

Okay, that surveys the “What is the Trinity?” question, even though I am sure you probably have more questions now than when we began. But to keep this from being merely an academic exercise, we need to turn our attention to “Why do we care?” This is what’s important and what we need to understand. Doctrine is important, but doctrine comes from the lived experiences of God’s people as they interpret the work of God in the real world. First, the reason we should care about the Trinity, and be aware of the uniqueness of the One-in-Three and Three-in-One is this: Without a balanced view of all three persons of the Trinity, we can misinterpret the work of God in this world. For instance, if we emphasize some aspects of God in the Old Testament, and subordinate Jesus and the Spirit, then we come away with a picture of a god of wrath and judgment, who has little compassion. One very well known Baptist preacher did just that after destructive tornadoes, when he compared the tornadoes that hit Oklahoma with the story of Job who lost all of his children to a mighty wind that collapsed Job’s house. If we emphasize the person of Jesus to the exclusion of God the Father and the Holy Spirit, we miss out on the fact that God sent Jesus because “God so loved the world…” The purpose of God is to redeem the world, not just the individuals in it. Salvation is the work of God, and that salvation extends not just to individuals but to God’s creation as well. Another famous and trendy preacher was quoted as saying that Jesus is coming back to burn up the world, so he can drive a huge SUV because he’s not worried about this physical earth. Not a good theological position, in my estimation. Finally, if we emphasize the Holy Spirit, and the charismatic experiences and gifts of the Spirit, it it is easy to loose sight of God as Creator, Son as Redeemer, and the role that the Holy Spirit played and plays in both of those aspects of God’s work.

Who is God? He is our heavenly Father who made us, takes cares of us and calls us his dear children.
Who is God? He is Jesus Christ who gave his life on the cross to re-establish our relationship with God. He reveals the way to God and to eternal life.
Who is God? God is the Spirit in you giving you faith in God and guiding you in your daily walk as a Christian.
Faith in the Triune God acknowledges the might and majesty of God but at the same trusts in a God who cares. Amen.

A Better World: The Feast of St. Barnabas ~ Fr. Shawn Gisewhite, OPI

Do you ever wonder what it would take to make the world a better place. Less rotten? Less foolish? Less stupid? Less tasteless? Less dark?

I do. People at large would come up with a range of suggestions. Some people put their confidence in the political system. The government is there to improve things, and once a decade we change who is in power because we’re not convinced the current lot are fixing things well enough, so we try somebody else.

Others would say that capitalism is the answer. A video was put on the internet in November. It starts with a picture of a girl running in a field. The voice-over runs like this. “This child was born in the past year. She is expected to live to at least the age of 70. If she had been born just two centuries earlier, she would not have been expected to survive beyond her 30th birthday. The almost miraculous increase in life expectancy of the past two centuries is mainly the result of capitalism. By making life healthier, easier and better, capitalism has made life longer for billions of people around the world. Capitalism has given each of us a future, the chance to experience all that life offers. To defend and advance capitalism is to defend and advance our lives and those of our loved ones. What could be more important?” Get the world to embrace capitalism, things will improve further.

Others don’t like that, so they protest against capitalism, as if anti-capitalism were the answer.

Christians by and large reach for some better answers. Some would say that society will improve if we go back to the traditional values that we’ve lost. If the next generation can grow up once again knowing the Lord’s Prayer and the Ten Commandments, things might be a little less hopeless. Others would say that religion in general holds the key. Others would say that God can make things better. Others would be more precise still, and say that the answer is Jesus.

Jesus tells us in these verses from Matthew’s gospel what it will take to make the world a better place. The answer is surprising. It’s not God, or Jesus. It’s the Christian church. It’s groups of disciples. It’s ordinary Christians. It’s you, and it’s me.

But it’s not automatic. If the Christian church is to be God’s answer to improve a world that is frequently dark, rotten and lacking taste, two things must happen.

First, we must not lose our distinctiveness.

 

The first thing that needs to happen is this: We must not lose our distinctiveness. We must not lose our distinctiveness.

Verse 13: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.”

Jesus compares us to salt. He says we are like salt. You are the salt of the earth. What point is he making?

In the ancient world, there were two main uses for salt. It was used as a preservative. People didn’t have fridges, so they would put salt on meat to stop it from going bad. If that is what Jesus means, he is saying that the world will go rotten all by itself, just as surely as a sirloin steak won’t smell or taste good after a day in the hot sun. We are the salt that stops the rot. Today, he might have said (although there would be problems with saying it): You are the deep freeze of the earth. When society goes rotten, we shouldn’t criticize society in pious “letters to the editor”, but ask why the salt was not applied. It’s not the meat’s fault if it goes bad if nobody put it back in the fridge.

The other use for salt was to flavor things, a use it still has today. If that is what Jesus means, he is saying that we are in society to make it a better place, to give the place a little more taste.

Jesus doesn’t tell us which he means. Perhaps he’s being deliberately ambiguous, so that we think of it from both angles. In any case, the exact way in which the salt helps isn’t his point. He tells us that we are like salt so that he can say one thing: The salt must not lose its saltiness. Literally, it must not lose its taste, or it must not become foolish.

How does salt lose its saltiness? Like this. In the ancient world, they didn’t have beautifully white refined table salt. They used something a bit like rock-salt. You remember the recent snow? There were footpaths that looked like they were gritted but the snow was still settling. That was salt that had lost its saltiness. The water and snow had leached the actual salt out of it. What you had left you might still call salt, but it had no actual salt in it.

So that is what he is saying. We are here to have an influence on the world of some kind. There’s some positive influence involved, as we improve the flavor of the world. There’s some negative influence involved, as we stop the rot. But we can’t do either of those things if we have lost the distinctive thing that we are supposed to contribute to society. And without that, there is no hope. The word “You” at the start of this is emphatic. “You are the salt of the earth”, and I mean “only you”.

So we must not lose our distinctiveness. Those qualities we thought about last time, Jesus’ portrait of what makes the follower of his different from other people: They really matter.

Sadly, though, the salt often loses its saltiness. The history of the Christian church contains many episodes where Christians compromised. Where they looked little to no different to the world around them.

Instead of being a source of influence, preventing decay and working for good, the church merely adopts the world around. It takes its culture, its morals and its values from the world. Sometimes this has been so much so, that the church has actually promoted the world’s values, when in fact it should have been standing against them.

It’s not just the church, considered corporately, that can lose its saltiness. Which of us does not feel this pressure individually as well. We feel the pressure to have the same standards of living as those around us, to drink the same amount at a party, to have the same standard of truthfulness when it comes to our expenses claims or our taxes, to have the same casual attitude to the speed limit, and so on. And then we adopt the world’s standards rather than living the way Jesus set out last time: We too quickly become proud, self-satisfied, glib, brutal and self-indulgent.

The pressure is on for us to lose our saltiness, to lose it as a church, and to lose it individually. But we must not. Because we are the salt of the earth. We must not lose our distinctiveness.

Secondly, we must not hide our discipleship

 

The second thing that must happen if we are to be God’s agent to improve the world, is that we must not hide our discipleship. We must not hide our discipleship.

Verse 14: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”

Jesus has changed his picture. He’s no longer comparing us to salt. Now we are light.

Light is a big Old Testament image. We remember it from those readings we get at Christmas time from Isaiah. The people walking in darkness have seen a great light. In the Old Testament, darkness is frequently an expression of God’s judgment, whereas light is an expression of his favor and blessing.

Jesus came to fulfill those Old Testament promises. He came to bring the light of God’s blessing. He even said: “I am the light of the world”. And so it is that those who follow him live in the light of God’s favor. They are blessed by God. The start of this chapter, remember, told us again and again how blessed we are to follow Jesus.

What Jesus is saying in these verses is that the light that we have been given needs to shine, so that others can see that we are in Jesus’ kingdom, and that we are among those God is blessing. And the reason we are to shine in this way is so that God gets the glory.

Thirdly, we must not hide our discipleship.

One detail we must notice is that the light here is corporate. Jesus is saying “We must not hide our discipleship”, not “I must not hide my discipleship”. The “you” is plural.

Jesus develops this picture of a city on a hill. That seems like an abrupt change of subject. One minute, he’s talking about us being lights, and then he takes about a prominent city. It stands out like a sore thumb… until you see that what he’s talking about is the visibility of a city on a hill at night, in a country with no electric lighting. Here’s the point: The city is so bright, because it is a beacon made up of lots and lots of little lights.

The church is made up of many lights. We are that city. When people look at our church, they will see the brightness that is the cumulative shine of all of our lights. We must not hide our discipleship.

You may know the old chorus – I won’t sing it! The first verse goes like this: Jesus bids us shine with a pure, clear light, like a little candle burning in the night in this world of darkness So let us shine— You in your small corner, and I in mine.

That is not what Jesus is saying here. He’s not saying we’ll all stay in our own small corners, and shine into the dark world. He’s saying that each of us has experienced God’s blessing individually. And when we come together, we are the light of the world. We must not hide our discipleship.

You’ve doubtless heard of sea pollution, and you’re used to the idea that beaches can be polluted or clean. Well until recently, I hadn’t heard of light pollution. There’s an organization called the International Dark Sky Association that aims to reduce light pollution. And just as the EU can declare a beach to be clean, so they can designate a place a “Dark Sky Park”, meaning it’s free of artificial light – you can see the stars at night. There is currently one of these in the UK, its Galloway Forest Park in South-West Scotland. Exmoor National Park is working to get its recognition.

From what I read of studies, in the South-East they have no chance. Kemsing for example has no street lights, but they are too near to Sevenoaks and to London. Go to Galloway, and on a cloudy, moonless night, you can’t see your own hand. But all you need is one major town with electric light, and it bounces off the clouds, and for tens or hundreds of miles the night sky is no longer black.

That is what the Christian church is. It’s that city on the hill. But we must let the light shine. We must not hide our discipleship.

We must not hide it as individuals. Jesus has already said that we will fail to influence the world around us or to spread the kingdom if there is nothing distinctive about us. But we will also fail if we are distinctive, but that is so hidden that nobody would ever know!

Here are some of the questions we could ask ourselves: So when you’re at work, are you a Christian? Or is it too well hidden for anyone to know? Do you talk about your faith, or does shame or the fear of rejection mean that you stay quiet? How about at home: Are you a Christian? Do people know that the reason you are distinctive is because you are a follower of Jesus Christ, or is that detail buried?

We mustn’t hide it as individuals, but we also mustn’t hide it corporately. Remember the city on the hill. Just as our life together must be salty and distinctive, so it needs to shine out. It’s no use keeping it hidden.

It’s no use expecting people to come to us to hear the good news of the kingdom; we need to take it to them. That is one reason why I’m so keen that we have at least one, if not several, open-air services during the Festival in September. Recently, someone in the church said to me, “Where else in the village can we take the church?”

You probably know that the basket Jesus refers to in verse 15 is called a “bushel”. It was a measure, used for measuring grain. We could paraphrase Jesus: “Don’t light a lamp, and put it under a measuring jug”. Now, this building makes an excellent bushel. It’s no use reforming our worship to make it God-honoring in every way we can, it’s no use having excellent relationships with each other, being supportive, and living the life Christ called us to, if we then place this bushel of a church building over the top, and contain it and hide it away.

When we meet here, we look at the face of God in Jesus Christ. We confess our failures, and we find forgiveness. We hear God’s word, that is an active, shaping word, and we get brighter. But it’s when we go out of here that the light can shine.

So if you, like me, long to see this world a better place, a brighter place, a wiser place, a less rotten place, then we need Jesus to point us in the right direction. You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. God wants us to be the means he uses to brighten this world with his kingdom. To be that, Jesus calls us to follow him. Then he tells us that as salt, we must not lose our saltiness, and, as light, we must not be hidden.

Amen.

 

Memorial of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of the Church~ Fr. Shawn Gisewhite, OPI

Jn 19:25-34

 Yesterday, we celebrated the feast of Pentecost, the birthday of the Church.  On this day, the Church is called to be the Sacrament of Jesus, to be the sign of unity for the human race.  At the same time, the Lord commanded His disciples to go and “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  As the disciples went out to proclaim the Good News of Jesus as Lord and Saviour, they won more converts into their fold.  But as the Lord instructed, conversion is not reducible to making converts through baptism but they must be instructed in their faith so that they can become His disciples, walking in His step.

Consequently, the Church, as mother who gives birth to new children of God at baptism, has an equal responsibility to help the newly baptized to grow and mature in the faith. Of course, discipleship is an ongoing process.  There is only one teacher and that is Jesus the Christ.  The Church, therefore, provides the other sacraments as means for her members to grow in faith, in union with the Lord and His Church, and most of all, to live out their Christian life according to their vocation.  The sacrament of the Eucharist strengthens the bond between the disciple and Christ and the Christian community.  The Sacrament of Confirmation empowers them to be witnesses of Christ. The Sacrament of Matrimony helps disciples to live out their basic and fundamental vocations as husbands and wives and parents.  The Sacrament of Reconciliation forgives their sins and heals fractured relationships.  The Church also nourishes the faithful through preaching and teaching the Word of God.  The end product is a faithful disciple of the Lord.

But where can the Church turn to in living out her role as mother if not our Blessed Virgin Mary, the mother of Christ?  Since Christ is both Head and Body of the Church, Mary too is our mother.  Her role as mother of the Church was prepared by Christ, as the scripture tells us.  In today’s gospel, we read that when Mary was standing at the foot of the cross, one of the last acts of our Lord was to entrust Mary to the care of His beloved disciple, John.  “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple there whom he loved he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his home.”  In calling His own mother, “Woman” and by not addressing John by name, but calling him, “Son”, it was the intention of the evangelist to portray Mary as the Mother of the Church.  Later on, in the book of Revelation, we read how the evangelist described the Church as a Woman.  “A great portent appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pangs, in the agony of giving birth.” 

Furthermore, this role was already anticipated by our Lord at the Wedding in Cana.  When the couple had no wine, Mary told Jesus, “‘They have no wine.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’”   What Jesus meant, in St John’s interpretation, was that it was not yet the time for Mary or for Himself to manifest their real identity until His glorification at His passion, death and resurrection.  The hour refers to the hour of His glory.  So in using the term “woman” at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and then again at the end of Jesus’ ministry, St John intended this term to be understood as the call of Mary to be the mother of the Church upon the death and glorification of Jesus.  Her role as mother of the Church began when Jesus died and rose from the dead.

That is why, immediately after the ascension of our Lord and before Pentecost, we see Mary gathering with the apostles in the Upper Room at prayer, waiting for the coming of the Holy Spirit.  St Luke made special mention of Mary with the apostles.  “All these devoted themselves with one accord to prayer, together with some women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and his brothers.”   Hence, it is significant that Mary was present at the birth of Jesus, and also at the birth of the Church at Pentecost.  She is therefore fittingly called to be both the Mother of Christ, Head and Body, which is His Church.  She was there to take care of Jesus and supported Him when He was growing up.  So too Mary was there with the infant Church, supporting her at the beginning of its establishment.

Consequently, if the Church wishes to find a model of motherhood, no one could be better than Mary herself.  She showed herself to be not just a mother but a virginal mother.  In other words, she was a mother in an exceptional and paradoxical sense.  For logically, how can one be a virgin and yet a mother?  Mary conceived Jesus as a virgin through the power of the Holy Spirit.  She became mother not by her own strength or power but by the grace of God.  So, too, the Church is not a man-made institution or a kind of political establishment, as some conceive the Church to be.  It is our belief that the Church was born from the power of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which we just celebrated.  Just as the Holy Spirit overshadowed Mary and she conceived Jesus, so too, the Holy Spirit overshadowed the Church and the Church was born.  It is for this reason, the Church, although human and sinful, is also divine and holy.  Jesus said to Peter, “…you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”   The Church too must rely only on the power of God!

To be a mother, the Church must first be devoted to our Lord, just as Mary was.  This is the meaning of virginal motherhood.  It means total dedication to the one whom we love.  She was totally dedicated to God and sought only to do His will.  When the angel greeted her and informed her of God’s choice for her to be the mother of the saviour, she willingly said “yes” to her vocation after a period of discernment and clarification.  “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”   And to the servants at Cana, she told them the same thing.  “Do whatever he tells you.”    The Church too must be fully devoted to the Lord and place Him above everything else.  This is true also for all parents.  If they love their children and want them to grow up to be loving, responsible and God-fearing people, they must show the example of being faithful to God’s will in their lives so that their children will also learn how to imitate their example.  By being true to their vocation as parents and as working people, they teach their children how to combine faith with life.

But it is not just doing God’s will.  Indeed, if we want to be good servants of God, we must be ready to do His will at all times, even when it is difficult and we do not quite understand His will, which is often the case.  But Mary did not stop doing God’s will simply because she did not understand fully what and why the Lord acted thus.  Indeed, right from the start, Mary was puzzled by Jesus’ action and words at the Temple when He was twelve years old.  Jesus said, “‘Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand what he said to them.”   Then we read that upon pressure from the family, Mary and her relatives went to fetch the Lord home because they thought He was mad.  That is why the Church must teach her members to trust in God and obey His will even when they cannot understand some teachings of scripture and the Church.  As Isaiah says, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Indeed, to be a virginal mother, we must be faithful to our Lord till the end, just as Mary was faithful to her Son right to the end.  In this way, the Church, which includes all those in positions of authority, especially parents and guardians, is called to imitate Mary in her devotion to God and to our fellowmen, in obedience to God’s will, and faithful in trials and suffering.  Through Mary, we become true disciples of the Lord.  Like St John, therefore, we must also bring Mary into our home.  Devotion to Mary, the Mother of our Lord is critical in learning how to be true disciples of the Lord and mothers of those under our charge.  Let us cultivate a strong devotion to Mary so that we too can be one in union with our Lord in doing God’s will.

amen

Is That All There Is? ~ Br. Chip Noon

Transitions are often hard to live through, aren’t they?

Today we celebrate probably one of the toughest transitions that human beings had to suffer: The Ascension of our Lord. I remember as a kid thinking about this day, and feeling with the disciples, that they had really lost a great friend and source of strength. I also imagined myself in their place and staring up into the sky, looking into the clouds. One of my personal traumas as a child was watching my father storm out of the house when he was angry. So I acutely identified with the disciples on this day.

Now today our family is going through a particularly poignant transition. We have been told by my mother-in-law’s nursing home staff, and by our own observations, that she is in the last stage of her life. She is 93 and has been bedridden for the past nine months. She has also prayed every day for God to take her home. Particularly heart-wrenching prayers to accompany her physical sufferings.

But what did Jesus tell us, over and over, about times like this? He said that this is not all there is, didn’t he? Even as he was ascending, he promised that the disciples would receive some gift in the future. The gift of the power of the Holy Spirit.

And yet, even at these last moments, his disciples continued to show that somehow, they were not really getting the message. “It is not for you to know the times or seasons that the Father has established by his own authority…”

But as we watch Irene in her nursing home bed, I sense around the room a true feeling for her that this is not all there is. Yes, there is sadness and anxiety, but as her oldest daughter said, “I think Mom is continuing on the path to her new life.”

You see, time and again in these days after Easter we hear Jesus telling us, “I am with you always, until the end of the world.” It is in today’s Alleluia. It is in the 2nd Reading: “…the fullness of the one who fills all things in every way.” It is in the 1st Reading: “This Jesus…will return in the same way as you have seen him going into heaven.” The Promise. The Prize. The knowledge that while we may suffer today, mourn today, and weep today, that is not all there is.

Yes, Jesus had to tell his disciples many times, sometimes in exasperation, that his kingdom is not of this earth, but also that his kingdom is indeed all around us. Again, this sounds like a Zen koan, “the identity of opposites” as the Buddhist monk and teacher says.

But that is what I was seeing in Irene’s room…her children and grandchildren recognizing that while their parent and grandparent was lying peacefully in bed, there was the realization that this mortal coil was unwinding to a grander and incomprehensible shape.

And that’s what Jesus was telling his apostles. Don’t worry, I may be physically gone, but all that I have taught you will finally be made clear through the power of the holy spirit.

Now I suppose that these people who had close daily contact with the person of Jesus, whom most of them could barely understand, would need an overt presentation of this comforting concept by the physical descent of the Holy Spirit. But we, who have been immersed in this salvation story all our lives, may just need the echoes of the Gospel, the readings, the Psalms, and the teachings of our ministers.

That’s what was in Irene’s room, at least for many of us. We could see her slowly slipping away from us, yes. But the thought was expressed – and silent – that she was going to the promised land and would soon be rid of her constant physical torments.

One final thought for today. This isn’t just a holy story out of our Bible and preachers’ mouths. This is much more. This is a call from Jesus show to the next generation, and those around us, that there is more to come than anything we could expect. “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, throughout Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

There it is.

Yes, the kingdom is at hand. There is more than our physical senses. There is something beyond what we know and see every day. So let’s rejoice! Let’s sing and dance! Let’s laugh and cry with joyful expectation.

But mark my words, let’s all go out and tell the whole world this story. It doesn’t belong just to us who have gotten the message. It belongs to everyone.

Go forth and proclaim the Good News!

Amen.

Father, help us to proclaim your word. Help us to share our joy. And help us to see your kingdom all around us as we profess it. And may Irene rest in peace.

Amen.

Peace and Forgiveness ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

 

Reading 1: ACTS 15:1-2, 22-29

Responsorial Psalm: PS 67:2-3,5,6,8

Reading 2: REV 21:10-14, 22-23

Gospel: JN 14:23-29

Liturgical colour: White.

The saying of the peace been spoken in congregations such as in our church masses for thousands of years. The giving of the peace has become a ritual part of our sunday service. Before the Holy Eucharist, the priest blesses the faithful with the peace of the Lord. In many church congregations, the people shake hands at that time of the service and say, “Peace be with you.”

This is an important action, which is much more than merely the giving of a routine or friendly gesture. The giving of a sign of peace has its roots in the words of Jesus on the night before his death, and on the day of his resurrection. He wanted each to know that he was going into death and coming out again to bring us peace, and that all who share the belief in Jesus also share the common peace that our Lord gives.

The ritual of the giving of the peace of the Lord goes back to the very first Easter. Jesus appeared to His Apostles in a locked room and twice said, “Peace be with you.” He then sent them to bring peace to the world by granting the forgiveness of sin in his name. To each of us who know our sins, this greeting is a refreshing shower of the Lord’s grace.

In the early days of the Christian Church the peace was given not as a handshake, but was given as a kiss. This kiss of peace is spoken of at the end of several of the letters of the New Testament. In the early Church all who received and gave the kiss of peace then received the body and blood of Christ in the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist. In the congregation, after those who were still learning the faith were dismissed, the kiss began at the altar and was passed all the way around the church. Only those who received and gave the kiss were welcomed to the Lord’s table.

In a document called the Didascalia from the early third century A.D. it is told of a scene where the kiss of peace suddenly comes to a halt as two people refuse to kiss each other. There was a disagreement. We don’t know what the disagreement was about, but it was probably much like the kind of disagreements we have between people in our own church congregations today. The service then immediately stopped and the presiding minister left the altar and went to where the kiss was blocked. Only after reconciliation of the disagreement did the peace continue on its way around, and only then did the liturgy proceed.

This tells much about how early Christians lived in a congregation. To them the peace of God was a indeed truly a real thing, it was expected to be received by everyone, and to be shared by everyone. There was to be no withholding of forgiveness between the gathered flock. If two people would not share the peace, no one could until those two were brought together.

Does this situation bear any resemblance to our congregations today? It is well known that we have times when we are not always at peace with each other. Within our congregation there have been persons who do not even speak with one another, let alone share the peace. How many of our families have been at odds with one another? And yet week after week we come to the Lord’s table together. Do we know what we are doing? If we want the Lord’s forgiveness and peace but will not forgive our brother or sister in Christ, what can we expect to receive in return from the Lord our God? First we must be at peace with our brothers and our sisters, we need to seek their forgiveness and also to forgive them, and then we may come to the Lord to receive his pardon.

We clearly see this reflected in the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. We ask God to forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Jesus taught that we are to forgive our brother or sister not only seven times, but seven times seven times. We are always to forgive those who ask for our forgiveness. To withhold forgiveness is to decline the Lord’s forgiveness for ourselves.

During the Easter season especially, the Christian Church is filled with the peace of the Lord. His sacrificial death for our sins brings peace where there once was only guilt. The news of his resurrection spread among his friends and followers and  is remembered in the preaching of the Words of Life that ring in our ears, “He is risen!” The sight of his body, wounded but now healed and filled with glory, points to the future clothing that God will drape upon every person who is truly part of his faithful flock. It is a body that will be raised without any illness, disease, and age. Yes, the time of Easter is one of great joy and peace.

That peace must be shared among us and between us all. Wherever there is any type of division and bad feelings the peace of the Lord must replace that. We cannot truly celebrate the peace of Easter and still be holding a grudge against a fellow brother or sister. If we do, we are only imagining the peace of the Lord rather than truly receiving and giving it. We can shake a hand, we can mumble the words of peace, we can even kiss othere on the cheek, but if there is not full forgiveness in our heart, we do not have the peace that the Lord is giving.

The peace of the Lord is forever. Knowing that we have been completely forgiven by God and that he will never forsake us is powerful knowledge.

It gives strength to everything we do. It doesn’t matter if we are working, studying, raising a family, or lying in bed in a nursing home with no hope of recovery. Knowing that Jesus died and rose to give us eternal life is the most peaceful of all experiences. It gives us the strength to cope with any hardship. It calms the restless soul. It lifts the lowest spirit. It is the only true peace we can ever know in this earthly life.

So when we say the Peace at mass and give each other the sign of the peace of the Lord, are we truly doing it from the depths of our hearts and forgiving each other as Our Lord forgives us,  or are we merely doing it out of habit, or routine? Let us look deeply within ourselves to ensure we are doing it with the whole purpose with which the Lord intended.

The peace of the Lord to you all!

Hardships and Heaven ~ Br. Chip Noon

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.”

Today’s First Reading from the Acts of the Apostles is from the story of Paul and Barnabas who were spreading the good news to the Gentiles. It comes directly after the end of their first mission.

One of the things they said to the disciples of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch was the quote “I started with hardships.”  In Paul’s case, one hardship was that he had just been stoned in Lystra, a town in the center of what is now Turkey. Stoned! And still Paul and Barnabas believed in Jesus and continued to spread the good news, even with the wounds of the stoning.

Let us put ourselves in Paul’s place. A stone is thrown at us and hits us in the arm. Then another in the stomach. As we curl up and turn our backs, more stones are thrown and strike us in the back, buttocks, and legs. And eventually one or more hit us in the head. I have a lot of trouble imagining that. I have never had that kind of beating. But it had to be brutal, since the people stoning him thought Paul was dead, so they dragged him out of the city.

But Paul got up when the disciples gathered around him. He got up!

I don’t know about you, but I’m felled by a cold, in agony over a stubbed toe, laid low by spinal stenosis. Yet Paul was almost stoned to death! I cannot even imagine what he went through. Or what Jesus went through during his passion.

And in the Second Reading, I find what strengthened Paul. “He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be nor more death or mourning, wailing or pain.” Paul was not living in this world. He was living the world of Heaven, the world of God because the new Jerusalem had already come down to him.

This past week I went to one of my physical therapy sessions. The pain of spinal stenosis I mentioned before has got me in its grasp. And the therapist said to me, “You can’t give in to it. You must move on. You can’t get down because of the pain.”

What? My physical therapist is preaching the Gospel to me! “You can’t get down.” Is that how Paul was handling his pain? He was living in the new Jerusalem. He was spreading the good news. He was loving the people as Jesus had loved him. If Paul is living like that, does he have room to consider the pain? Does he have time to worry about his back? Or the slashes in his skull? Or the bruising of his legs?

“For the old order has passed away.” The “old order.” And Paul and Barnabas have moved on. As Mark says: “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.” And if I may be a little more up to date, as Jimmy Dugan says to Evelyn in the movie A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying. There’s no crying in baseball!”

We are not taught that once we become Christians there will be no more pain. Of course, there is pain. This is the world. But we can live in this world, or, as Paul did, we can live in the new Jerusalem. But believe me, I can talk about that, recommend that, suggest that, preach that…but ask me if I have found the open gate to the new Jerusalem. Go ahead, ask. I ask myself that every day.

The answer is no, I haven’t. But I can see it. I can almost feel it. No more death or mourning, wailing or pain. It takes that step through the gate, and try as I might, my feet stumble.

But I have God to lean on, and my patron saints to pray for me, and my community to say to me, You must move on.” I can taste it. I can smell it. I can almost feel it. I can remember what Jesus told us, “I have loved you.” And in the loving of others, I can knock on the gate and be sure that eventually it will be opened to me.

So the answer? I can try to be “not of this world.” I can watch the new Jerusalem constantly coming down to earth, to replace earth, to offer us the way of God. I can work every day to remember that there is no crying in baseball.

Brothers and sisters, as I look into your eyes, I can see a new heaven and a new earth. Talk to me of your love.

Lord, let us continue to look above and move forward, shaking the dust off our sandals and stepping into your glory.

Amen.