In Greek mythology, a phoenix is a long-lived bird that is regenerated or reborn. Associated with the sun, a phoenix obtains new life from the ashes of its predecessor. According to some sources, the phoenix dies in a show of flames and combustion, and a young bird arises, new, strong, and vibrant from the ashes. The Phoenix is also an important Christian symbol which symbolizes the death of Christ and His resurrection from the dead. The following reference to the Phoenix as a symbol is in the Bible:
“Then I thought, ‘I shall die in my nest, and I shall multiply my days like the phoenix.’ ”
Also, Clement of Alexandria uses the phoenix as a symbol of the resurrection of Christ in his First letter to the Corinthians when the church there was having difficulties. He told the Corinthian church that out of strife comes growth. I believe that this applies to The Unified Old Catholic Church.
Through many trials and tribulations, hurt and bewilderment, and out of the ashes of broken relationships, a year ago today The Unified Old Catholic Church emerged. In the course of the past year, we have experienced rebirth, resurrection if you will, and have become an example of what can happen when a group of people is truly focused on our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Because we are truly ‘unified’ in our purpose, we touch more lives that we can possibly imagine. According to the “End of Year Statistics Report for 2015,” our posts have reached over 14,000 people in 112 countries. We have members and clergy in 22 states and 13 countries. The message of Christ’s love is preached in English, Spanish, French, Macedonian, Bulgarian, and Swedish.
We have several active Facebook groups, each of whose posts touch lives daily, not to mention those posts of our individual members. Our Franciscan and Dominican Orders are actively involved in teaching, preaching, and seeking justice for all in the name of Christ, and we are blessed with both podcast and video ministries.
Our motto is “One Vision.” In that vision, we believe in the unity of all Christian believers and part of our vocation is to help others understand and grow in a direction that they may see the love that God has for all of us. We are a church where all of God’s children are welcome. Working together for our Lord, and keeping in mind that we pray ‘that we all may be one,’ we are in an intercommunion agreement with 4 other jurisdictions through Transfiguration Sacramental Community. We have signed a Concordat with The Self-Ruled Old Catholic Church, the Church of Ireland in the Americas, The Anglican Church of the Caribbean and Granada, and The United States Old Catholic Church. We have friends in many other jurisdictions, and we live as proof that jurisdictions in the Independent Catholic Movement can, indeed, work together.
While all of the above is certainly wonderful, and we have reached many milestones on our collective journeys, and it truly sounds as if we have a very successful church, we must ask ourselves, “Have we arrived? Have we ‘made it’ to where we need and want to be?” Hardly. While we have had our successes, we are certainly not where we need to be.
In our secular lives, most of the “milestones’ that one reaches in life are not signals of arrival, but signals of new beginnings: a baby’s first steps; entrance into Kindergarten or First Grade; a driver’s license; a first job; high school graduation and going to college. If our successes are seen as “having arrived,” and if this kind of thinking is mistaken as success as regards normal everyday life, it is even more mistaken when applied to the religious life. Religious life, to be lived to its fullest, is one of ongoing formation, no matter how old one may be, regardless of one’s experiences or education. There is never a time when we are fully formed. Milestones mark the roads that we have traveled in our lives on our journey. The journey to where? Why, to the next major milestone, of course! What then, is that “next major milestone?” For some of us, it will be ordination into Holy Orders, planting a church, becoming fully a professed religious, going into full time ministry, developing our own personal ministries. And then, will we have “arrived’? Hardly.
Living a life fully devoted to Christ, following Him in this gift of our vocation, our faith, this way of life that we have been given, is full of milestones. Do we ever “arrive?” No. The gift of this life is a gift that must be continually renewed and offered, again and again, daily, over the course of a lifetime. It is this constant renewal which brings us joy, for we are daily new creatures in Him.
Over the past year, we have made mistakes. Over the past year we have all learned much. We have learned to love more completely, to trust our Lord more fully, and have come to realize that we have much, much more to learn. We have come to learn that we have much, much more to do.
So where do we go from here? We continue to take this journey of milestones, praying for and with each other, holding each other’s hands along the way, and sharing our joys, sorrows, successes, and failures. We continue to build each other up, to help each other in our Christian walks of faith, and above all, continue learning from, leaning on, loving and trusting our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I close with the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“As torrents in summer, Half dried in their channels, Suddenly rise, though the Sky is still cloudless,
For rain has been falling Far off at their fountains;
So hearts that are fainting Grow full to o’erflowing, And they that behold it Marvel, and know not
That God at their fountains Far off has been raining!
“Stronger than steel Is the sword of the Spirit; Swifter than arrows The light of the truth is,
Greater than anger Is love, and subdueth!
“The dawn is not distant, Nor is the night starless; Love is eternal! God is still God, and
His faith shall not fail us; Christ is eternal!” (As Torrents In Summer)
Thank you, my brothers and sisters, for taking this journey of milestones with me, for your prayers, your dedication, for holding my hand along the way, and for being a part of my world. I ask your continued prayers for me, for our church, and for each other. Amen.