Category: Member Posts

I Will Follow Him ~ The Rt. Rev. Michael Beckett, OPI

After Daddy’s mesothelioma diagnosis was deemed critically terminal, one of his great comforts was chewing gum.  He went through at least a pack a day.  I’ll never forget this conversation between he and Momma when Daddy was in the hospital:

Daddy:  Did I ask you to bring me some gum?

Momma:  Yes, Honey.

Daddy:  Did you bring me some gum?

Momma:  Yes, Honey.

Daddy:  Then why ain’t I achewin’ it?

And we all laughed, Momma gave Daddy his gum, he began “achewin’ it” and all was as right as it could be under the circumstances.

The Responsorial Psalm appointed for today comes from Psalm 25. Here it is:

R.  Teach me your ways, O Lord.

Your ways, O LORD, make known to me; teach me your paths, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my savior.

R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.

Remember that your compassion, O LORD, and your love are from of old.  In your kindness remember me, because of your goodness, O LORD.

R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.

Good and upright is the LORD; thus he shows sinners the way.  He guides the  humble to justice  and teaches the humble his way.

R. Teach me your ways, O Lord.

And the Gospel for today comes from Mark 1:   As he (Jesus) passed by the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting their nets into the sea; they were fishermen.  Jesus said to them,  “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.”   Then they abandoned their nets and followed him.  He walked along a little farther and saw James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John.  They too were in a boat mending their nets.  Then he called them.  So they left their father Zebedee in the boat along with the hired men and followed him.

Now, you ask me, what in the world does Daddy’s gum have to do with those scriptures?  I’m gonna tell ya.  Momma was prepared.  She had done Daddy’s bidding, but just hadn’t quite followed through with it yet.  How many of us are like that when it comes to doing our Lord’s bidding?  Like the Psalmist, we have all of us asked “Teach me your ways, O Lord.”  But have we followed through?

In the Gospel reading for today, we read of Jesus calling Simon, Andrew, James and John to follow him.  And they did.  We have many of us been called to follow Christ.  And we do.  Mostly???  Sort of???  Kind of???  In a round about way???

In the past few weeks, how many of us have said/posted/read/agreed with things that would most definitely not be considered Christ-like?   How many of us have let our personal political beliefs get in the way of acting like the “little Christ” we are called to be?  Sure we can disagree, often vehemently, but under no circumstances can we allow ourselves to allow those differences of opinions to get in the way of our witness for our Lord.  (You gotta remember that even Peter and Paul argued, but they didn’t let that stand in the way of building Christ’s Kingdom.)

Let us not forget that in many cases, we are the only Bibles that many folks will ever read, and we are the only Jesus that some folks will ever see.  It is up to us to see the Jesus in everyone, regardless of political belief, race, creed, color, sexual orientation, whether we cheer for Duke or for Clemson, or anything thing else that can be used to divide us.  We are all of us HIS people, the sheep of HIS pasture, and we have far more in common than we do the things that divide us, if we truly identify as HIS.

As Christians, have we lost our focus of what is truly important?  Regardless of politics, of whether we are ‘blue’ or ‘red’ or ‘rainbow,’ we are to remain focused on the one thing that really matters in this world and the next:  Spreading and sharing the love of and for our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  No matter who sits in the Oval Office, our job, our mission, our focus, has not changed and will not change:  We are called to love and to serve the Lord with gladness and singleness of heart.  We are called to care of each other, regardless of our politics.  We are commanded to ‘bless those who persecute us’ and we are called to ‘pray for our enemies.’  We are called to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, house the homeless. (Matthew 25:31-46). 

I think we all of us are familiar with the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth.”  And what is the next line?  Yep.  “And let it begin with me.”  Isn’t it time we lived up to that?   What are we doing to bring about change?  To bring about equality?  To bring about that healing this country so desperately needs? 

It is up to each of us to conduct ourselves in a manner fitting our faith.   Look at what you say.  Look at what you post.  If you were accused of being a Christian, would your timeline bear witness to the fact?

In the movie “Sister Act” the nuns sing another song that we’re all familiar with.  “I Will Follow Him.” 

 I must follow him, ever since he touched my hand I knew that near him I always must be And nothing can keep him from me He is my destiny. (Songwriters: Arthur Altman / Franck Pourcel / Jacques Plante / Norman Gimbel / Paul Mauriat)

So, having said all of the above, shouldn’t we, like the nuns, like Peter and James and John and Andrew and Paul actually do what we are called to do?

Follow Him.  In every word that we speak.  Follow Him.  In every post that we make.  Follow Him.  In every action we take.  Follow Him.  Amen.

Whose Disciple Are You? ~ The Rev. Dcn. Scott Brown, OPI

Disciples of Jesus or Disciples of a man?

John 1:35-42

John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —,
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
It was about four in the afternoon.
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
“We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
Jesus looked at him and said,
“You are Simon the son of John;
you will be called Cephas” — which is translated Peter.

In just the last ten days we have seen violence, hatred, anarchy, and just plain disobedience. Our country is in deep trouble because of how a few followers of one person have acted out and caused such turmoil. These are disciples of a man. A small man. A bitter man. Someone who needs his giant ego stroked and requires praise and worship. NOT TRUE CHRISITIANS! True Christians are those people who follow Jesus, Act Like Jesus, and bring others to Jesus. Riots, mayhem, and violence are not the ways of our Lord.

Who do you follow? Who have you become disciple of? Are you disciples of a certain politician? Are you disciples of money? Are you a disciple of a boy band singer or a movie actor or actress? Do you spend more time searching the internet for videos of these people than you do reading your Bible? If so you need to step back and look at your life and the way you are living it. The last four years in the United States has been the scariest I can remember in my life. Racial violence, pandemics, political violence, and just general hatred to fellow humans seems to be the norm now, but that is not what our Lord wants for us. All these things can go away and all it would take would be for each of us to act and be the Jesus that others see. Love on another the way Jesus loved us – after all – He commanded this of us in John 13:34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

What does it mean to be a Christian these days? Who do you follow? Your preacher, the politician with the most charisma, the current popular rock singer, or Jesus? Open your eyes, open your hearts, open your lives. Be a disciple of Christ, not the newest fad or politician. Spread love and peace, not hatred and discourse. Be a fan of Jesus and not that football player or baseball star. John Wesley said: “The church changes the world not by making converts, but by making disciples.” Live your life making disciples and being the Jesus others see.

Heavenly Father: show us how to be disciples and how to guide others to your Son Jesus Christ. Give us the knowledge and wisdom to know that Your son Jesus Christ is the only one we need to follow and be disciples of. Amen

Water, Water, Everywhere ~ The Baptism of Our Lord ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

The Baptism of Our Lord.

Reading I: Is 42:1-4, 6-7 OR: Is 55:1-11

Responsorial Psalm: Ps 29:1-2, 3-4, 3, 9-10 OR: Is 12:2-3, 4bcd, 5-6

Reading II: Acts 10:34-38 OR: 1 Jn 5:1-9

Gospel: Mk 1:7-11

Liturgical colour: White.

Let us begin by looking at today’s Gospel Reading:

This is what John the Baptist proclaimed: 

“One mightier than I is coming after me.

I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals.

I have baptized you with water; 

he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee 

and was baptized in the Jordan by John.

On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open 

and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him.

And a voice came from the heavens, 

“You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.”

In this reading from the Gospel of Mark, we see the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It begins with John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the Jordan River and God proclaiming that Jesus is the Beloved Son. Our baptism reminds us of who God created us to be. It joins us to the Body of Christ, gives us freedom, and commits us to following the way of Christ. But we don’t do this alone. Our baptism bonds us all in the Christian Church.

We all came into the world as the individuals which God created.  We came into the world with love and mercy that each and every one of us,  were created to give and to receive.  We are all intentional creations of God.

Unfortunately, over time, we forget that part of who we are.  The memory of that loving heart is exchanged with worries about what others may think of us:  we may think, Are we good enough?  Are we successful enough?  Are we enough?

In the beginning…God created.  In the beginning…John the Baptist paved the way for Jesus.  In the beginning…Jesus set forth on his mission to save the world.

The Gospel of Mark doesn’t begin in the same way as the gospels of Matthew or Luke.  There is no genealogical history.  There is no account of Mary and Joseph wrestling with this strange news that will change the course of their lives.  There is no birth narrative…no manger….no shepherds…no wise men….  Mark’s Gospel begins at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry.

John the Baptist is described pretty as the messenger prophesied by Isaiah.  John’s out in the wilderness baptizing people who repent of their sins.  Mark’s description of him makes him a man on a mission, literally, he on a mission, a mission from God. He’s focused.  He’s doing what God has called him to do.  He’s not a self-promoter.  He’s baptizing people with water to receive forgiveness of their sins.

But John the Baptist tells us that he’s just the messenger…that God is sending another, more powerful man.  This man will call down the Holy Spirit to baptize us.

Then Jesus appears on the scene and is baptized by John the Baptist in the Jordan River.  And, for Mark, this is a new beginning, not only for Jesus, but for the whole world.  Mark says:  “And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased’.”

For Mark, it’s not the birth of Jesus that rearranges all of history.  It’s the baptism of Jesus.  In that moment, “the heavens are torn apart!”  The veil is lifted and heaven and earth are one again, just like at the beginning of Creation.

In this moment of Jesus’ baptism in Mark, God’s love and the Holy Spirit break into this world to declare that Jesus is the Beloved Son.  And just as God proclaimed that creation was “good,” God proclaims the goodness of the Son.

Mark makes clear that Jesus isn’t just a prophet, Jesus is God walking around this world in the flesh, in all its joy and sorrow and fragility.  Jesus is the one the world has been waiting for.  The one who will bring God’s kingdom to earth.  This is a new beginning.

Baptism is a new beginning for us, too.  When we’re baptized, we take part in the rite that uses the outward and visible signs of water, oil, the cross, the Paschal candle, and the people of God.  All of these things connect us to the Body of Christ, to all of those people who have gone before us, walk with us now, and will follow us on the journey of following Jesus.

This is our birth into the church as Christians.  It’s our proclamation that we will strive to bring love and justice and mercy to the world.  But we know that we can’t do it alone.  We need God to walk with us on this path.  We need Jesus to show us the way and the Holy Spirit to guide us.  And we need God’s people to walk with us.

When we’re baptized, the waters that are poured over us are the very waters that were present at creation.  They’re the waters upon which God breathed and creation began.  These are the same waters that baptized Jesus, that announced to everyone that the Saviour was in the world, offering a new beginning. These are the waters that create new life in us, too.

Baptism is also referred to as our “new life in Christ.”  This new life doesn’t mean that who we were before wasn’t good enough.  It’s not like we aren’t God’s children before we’re baptized.  We’re God’s children from the moment God creates us.

Baptism is when the veil between heaven and earth parts and we remember who God created us to be…each and every one of us.   Through Baptism, we receive freedom.  We make the commitment to be who God created us to be.  We return to that person God created us to be with new awareness and dedication and connection.

Our Baptism and the renewal of our baptismal vows reminds us of that loving and merciful person that God created us to be.  It reminds us that because God created us and loves us, we are good enough.

Let us pray:

God of all wilderness wanderers, you sent John to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, your beloved son. Pour out your Holy Spirit upon us so that, like John, we may proclaim the time to turn from sinfulness and the good news of your grace; through Christ, the water of life. Amen.

St. Elizabeth Ann Seton ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading I: 1 Jn 3:22–4:6

Responsorial Psalm: 2:7bc-8, 10-12a

Gospel: Mt 4:12-17, 23-25

Liturgical colour: White.

Today is the Memorial of my Dominican Order Name Saint, that being St. Elizabeth Ann Seton.

 This particular Saint was given as my order Name Saint because my Bishop noticed there seemed to be many similarities between the life of St Elizabeth Ann Seton and the life of myself. We both share the fact that we have both overcome many life traumas and adversities, but yet, we both always  have remained strong of faith regardless of the things life has thrown at us.

Mother Seton founded the first American religious community for women, named the sisters of charity, and so she was a keystone of the American Catholic church. Mother Seton also opened the first American parish school, and the first American Catholic orphanage. All this, she had accomplished by the age of 46, whilst also raising her own five children.

Mother Seton is a true daughter of the American Revolution, she was born on Aug 28th 1774, which was only two years prior to the declaration of Independence.

By both birth and marriage, Mother Seton was linked to the first families of New York and enjoyed the rich fruits of high society, but this situation wasn’t to last.

Mother Seton suffered the early deaths of both her mother in 1777, and of her baby sister in 1778, but far from letting it get her down, she faced each new ‘holocaust’  as she called it, with a hopeful cheerfulness.

At only aged 19, she married a handsome wealthy businessman named William Magee Seton and they had five children together. But William’s business failed, and he died of Tuberculosis when Elizabeth was aged 30, leaving her widowed, penniless and with five young children to support. Many of her family and friends rejected her when she converted to the Catholic faith in March 1805.

As a means to support her children, mother Seton opened a school in Baltimore which always followed a religious community pathway and her religious order of the sisters of charity was officially founded in 1807.

The thousands of letters of Mother Seton reveal the development of her Spiritual life from that of a person of Ordinary goodness, to one of heroic sanctity. She suffered many great trials within her life yet with her strong faith, she overcame them all. Trials of sickness, of misunderstanding, the deaths of her loved ones (mother, baby sister, husband, and even two of her own children), and the heartache of having a wayward son.

St Elizabeth Anne Seton died on January 4th 1821, she became the first American=born citizen to be beatified in 1963, then Canonized in 1975. She is buried in Emmitsburg in Maryland.

Let us pray:

O Father, the first rule of our dear Saviour’s life was to do your will. Let His Will of the present moment be the first rule of our daily life and work, with no other desire but for it’s complete accomplishment. Help us to follow it faithfully, so that doing your Will may be pleasing in your sight.

Amen.

So Christmas Is Over; Epiphany!!!!!!!

Today we mark the end of the Christmas season – the Day of Epiphany.  We celebrate this day to reflect on the visit of the Magi – the wise men – to Jesus and the giving of their gifts. We reflect on the meaning of this visit of those wise ones to see Jesus.

Epiphany is about Jesus and his message being available and relevant to people of every age and race. Jesus isn’t just a Jewish prophet with an exciting message, but God made present amongst us and available to all of us to worship and follow. God’s love reaches beyond the everyday barriers of race and class; something the Magi didn’t quite get at first.

So Who Were the Magi?

We don’t know much about the Magi from Scripture. All Saint Matthew tells us is that they were “Magi from the East”. Some translations have “Wise men from the East”. The word in Greek refers to priests of the Zoroastrian religion. They came from Persia, the countries now known as Iran and Iraq, and they saw meaning in the movement of the stars. Their visit fits an Eastern pattern of great births being accompanied by momentous events in the sky. Certainly we know of a comet in 11BCE in Gemini with its head towards Leo, seen by many as a symbol of Judah.  We also know of planetary conjunctions in both 7BCE and 6 BCE which would have added to a sense that momentous happenings were on the way. The Magi would have noticed these things and taken them seriously. But who were they?

One commentator, Brian Stoffregen puts it like this;

“Originally in Persia, Magi were dream- interpreters. By Jesus’ time, the term referred to astronomers, fortune-tellers, or star-gazers.   They were horoscope fanatics – a practice condemned by Jewish standards. We might compare them to people in fortune – telling booths, or people on the “psychic hotline” or other “occupations” that foretell the future by stars, tea leaves, Tarot cards etc. They were magicians, astronomers, star-gazers, pseudo-scientists, fortune tellers..”

Another writer, Nathan Nettleton, puts it like this;

“They were the speakers of the sacred words at the pagan sacrifices. At worst, the term referred to a magician or sorcerer, or even a deceiver. Magi were people whose activities were repeatedly condemned and prohibited throughout the scriptures and were completely anathema to the people of Israel.”

Whilst in English we get the words “magic” and “magician” from Magi, the Zoroastrian religion forbade sorcery. They clearly were looking for a new king and had found meaning in the movement of the planets and stars which led them to come to Israel to greet the new-born king. They journeyed from their homes in Persia to Bethlehem in search of this baby. Instead of angels and visions, we have the image of the Magi following a sign in the skies – in nature – and for a long period of time. The magi see the intentions of God in the skies. This is not new: Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens themselves declare who God is, and that his handiwork is seen in created nature.  “We observed his star at its rising”. The magi know that there is something significant happening.

When did they come?

The Gospel of Saint Luke doesn’t mention the Magi and holds that the Holy Family returned to Nazareth after the presentation of Jesus at the Temple where he was circumcised. It’s probable that Saint Luke didn’t know of this episode in Jesus’ early life. Saint Matthew seems to place the visit of the Magi some time after Jesus’ birth. The Holy Family are in a “house” not in the
stable of the inn.  Herod kills all the newborn boys under the age of two years. So it’s likely that the Holy Family had stayed for some time in Bethlehem and the Magi came some time after Jesus’ birth, perhaps as long as two years after.

WHY did they come?

Clearly, the Magi were searching.  The Magi recognized much of the truth of Jesus, who he was and what he would become.  The magi had a general idea of this God and this King of the Jews, but they didn’t really know who or what they were looking for.  Bono and U2 were criticized some years ago by some supposedly orthodox Christians when they produced a song entitled, “I still haven’t found what I am looking for.”  I can’t see the problem with that especially given the spiritual depths in many of their songs. You see, the example of the Magi was that they were searchers, not really knowing what or who they were looking for.  They didn’t claim to have it all but they saw their lives as a journey of discovery. And in that they are an example to us. We don’t know it all. But if we like them are prepared to be diligent seekers, then like them we may be graced by God’s light, by our Epiphany.  When the wise men finally found Jesus, we are told that their first response was joy – “they were overwhelmed with joy”. That is what happens when we find Jesus. This is what awaits us at the end of the journey. Next, they paid him homage – they worshiped him and acknowledged Him as King. After the joy comes the worship. That means acknowledging Jesus as King. Jesus as the center. Jesus as Lord. And then, after joy and after worship, comes offering of their gifts. In response to who Jesus is and the joy He gives, we offer ourselves and our gifts to Him.

So my message for today is to dare, like them, to take the risk of seeking, and God may well bless us with our own Epiphanies which transform us as doubtless the Magi were transformed by what must have been a surprising experience for them as they knelt before the infant Jesus.

So how do you find Jesus? Maybe you can start out like the Magi – with a general idea of God, and a general idea that He is guiding you. Like the Magi, we need to turn to the scriptures. If you don’t read them, you will never really get the specific directions that God is trying to give you. Approach them with the right spirit, the right purpose. Ask for help along the way – the church, God’s people, are meant to help you along that way. The wise men knew when they needed to ask someone else for help. And pray. Ask God. When you find Jesus, rejoice. After all, He is God. Put Him in the center of your life. Ask yourself whether what you are doing honors him a King. Offer to him what you have, who you are.

Where can this Jesus be found?  He is with you now.  Won’t you seek Him?  Won’t you recognize Him?  Won’t you let Him fill YOUR life with joy?  Amen. 

Mary, Mother, Mom ~ The Rev Dcn Scott Brown, OPI

LK 2:16-21

The shepherds went in haste to Bethlehem and found Mary and Joseph,

and the infant lying in the manger.

When they saw this,

they made known the message

that had been told them about this child.

All who heard it were amazed

by what had been told them by the shepherds.

And Mary kept all these things,

reflecting on them in her heart.

Then the shepherds returned,

glorifying and praising God

for all they had heard and seen,

just as it had been told to them.

When eight days were completed for his circumcision,

he was named Jesus, the name given him by the angel

before he was conceived in the womb.

Well Jesus is 8 days old, circumcised, named, and introduced to the world in the covenant between God and the Jewish people. Mary’s work was not done. Mary had the responsibility of raising this child, with all the fun stuff that most new mothers must deal with such as diapers, 2 am feedings, all the childhood illnesses, skinned knees, and bruises. Mary had an ongoing job of raising the son of God. Not much is known about the following years, but I can only assume that Mary cherished and protected Jesus just as any other mother would today or at any time in history. It is said that the bond between mother and child is one of the strongest in the world. There is no stronger bond on earth or in heaven.

The natural bonding which holds together a mother and her baby gives an obvious basis to this unity of Mary and Jesus. But here the unity is more profound. Here the Child is also Mary’s Creator and her Savior. His humanity has been assumed from the first moment of its conception by God the Word who is himself the self-expression of the Father, the Source of all. So, he is his Mother’s Creator. And it is by his gracious anticipation of his own redeeming work as man that Mary, at his birth as before it, is full of grace. So he is her Savior too.  

Just as Mary’s motherhood was a mystery to her from the beginning when an angel told her she, a virgin, would conceive, so her motherhood is again a mystery she can only ponder in faith. There is so much that Jesus has – the power to work miracles is but one – that does not come from her. When she asks him to provide wine at the wedding in Cana, he replies, ‘Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come.’ Jesus performs the miracle at his mother’s request, but this event doesn’t fully reveal what the relationship is between Mary and Jesus, because his power to work miracles comes not from his mother but from his Father who is in heaven. 

But the words ‘My hour has not yet come’ point us forward to the hour of the cross when Jesus will say to Mary, ‘Behold, your Son.’ It is here that the importance of Mary’s motherhood is fully revealed to us. Her motherhood did not give Jesus the power to work miracles, but it did give him a body in which he could suffer and save us from our sins. The full meaning of the Mother of God is that Mary gave to an invulnerable God of miraculous power, the vulnerability of a body which could suffer, die, and save. And so, we honor her today, because it was she who gave us our Savior, the Mother of the Savior, the Mother of God.

At the human, biological level Mary is our precious link to the incarnate Son of God, Jesus Christ, whose birth some 2000 years ago we recall at Christmas. As Jesus did not have a biological father, did not have a wife to be one flesh with, did not have children, then Mary leads us uniquely and constantly to Christ’s incarnation, his taking on of flesh and blood. Far from being a distracting alternative to Christ, devotion to Mary attaches us more firmly to her Son. He is no alien visitor from outer space, disconnected from our humanity.

Let us pray
[in the name of Jesus,
born of a virgin and Son of God]
Father
source of light in every age,
the Virgin conceived
and bore your Son
who is called Wonderful God,
Prince of Peace.
May her prayer,
the gift of a mother’s love,
be your people’s joy through all ages.
May her response,
born of a humble heart
draw your Spirit to rest on your people.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen

Standing Firm: St. Stephen the Martyr ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: ACTS 6:8-10; 7:54-59

PS 31:3CD-4, 6 AND 8AB, 16BC AND 17

Gospel: MT 10:17-22

Liturgical colour: Red.

Today, the day after we have celebrated the joyous birth of Our Lord and Saviour, and after all the enjoyment of festive food and the giving of gifts which we traditionally do at Christmas, and with this being the first time many of us have been able to have any joyous type of occasion this year amid all the covid19 pandemic situation, we now come in total contrast to that of the celebrations of Christmas day, to the Feast of St. Stephen who was the first Martyr to die for his faith in Our Lord.

Throughout the Old Testament we see time and time again, of the faithful being persecuted and often even killed by those without faith.  But it’s not just an Old Testament phenomenon.  This is what humans can do in their natural and unredeemed state.  We as humans  don’t like our sins to be pointed out to us.  We manage to make ourselves believe that we’re really not all that bad.  We work hard to justify our sins and failings.  We find the really, really sinful people in history—men such as Nero or Stalin—and we tend to compare ourselves to them and actually start to feel pretty good about where we stand before God because we don’t believe our sins are as bad as those of such people.  And that’s when one of God’s faithful workers comes along—someone who, while by no means perfect, is living a life renewed by grace and who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit—and suddenly all the illusions we’ve built up about our own goodness are shattered and we get angry.  Like Cain, instead of acknowledging our sins and instead of repenting, we torment, persecute, and sometimes even kill God’s people when they show us up.

Jesus weeps over Jews, knowing that they will continue to kill those whom he sends as his messengers. They won’t stop at only Jesus’s messengers, but they will indeed kill our Lord and Saviour himself soon also  They won’t heed the warnings.  But brothers and sisters, Jesus warns us—the faithful—too.  To his disciples he says:

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you dear brothers and sisters when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on the Lord’s account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Jesus prepares us for the fact that as we joyfully follow him, and  joyfully do the work of his kingdom, and as we witness the great Christmas joy we’ve found in the manger and at the cross—as we live a life of joy before our King—we will face persecution from the world.  To submit ourselves to that seems nonsensical.  How can we find joy in persecution?  We find it there, because when we make Christ our Lord, he gives us that eternal perspective we’ve been hearing about all throughout Advent.  Suddenly the things of this world are so much less important.  Our focus is on Jesus and on building his kingdom.  Our focus is on being witnesses of his new life and taking his Good News to the world.  And that change in perspective means that if we can effectively communicate the Gospel to others whilst being tormented or with the risk of even being killed, well then, so be it.  Our joy in living in and sharing Christ is greater than our joy in the things of this world—even in life itself, because we know that our share in eternal life is so much greater than anything this world could ever possibly give. But it’s not just about joy.  It’s about love too.  That’s another theme that is carried throughout the season of Advent.  We saw Love Incarnate in the manger yesterday.  And now because God has so changed our perspective by loving us, we start loving as he did— if we are indeed true children of God and his faithful  servants, we simply can’t help it!  And it’s not just that we love God’s Church or that we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but that we even love our enemies and do good to those who persecute us.  That’s the hardest command of all for us to obey, but the reason it’s so hard is because we haven’t been perfect in love ourselves.  The closer we grow to Christ, the better able we’ll be to live it.  But it’s also true that the better we live it, the closer we will be to Christ! It is a never ending circle.

However, we fully know that Living that way is hard.  We so often get bogged down in matters of this world.  We focus more on life here than we do on life in the Kingdom of Heaven. .  We fall back into living in fear instead of living in faith.  The witness of St. Stephen should focus our eyes on our Lord and Saviour and on living the life he has given us.  No one knows for sure why this feast falls on the day after Christmas, but one thing I’ve realised is that it’s easy to be excited about grace and to live as Christmas people on Christmas Day.  But dear brothers and sisters, as humans we’re incredibly fickle, and the next day many forget about being Christmas people and go back to living in fear and in faithlessness.  We forget our witness.  How often do you come to worship God on a Sunday morning, getting excited about grace, and yet even as you drive home someone on the road does something that makes you angry and you forget all about grace; or you get bad service while you’re out having lunch, and you forget all about grace; or you get a bad news the next morning about your job, and you forget all about grace.  The Church reminds us today that being Christmas people requires real commitment on our part and that as much as it’s joyful work, it’s extremely hard work and work that requires truth and devout faith in the promises of God.

The story of Stephen actually begins in Acts Chapter 6.  He was among the group of seven men appointed the first deacons by the apostles.  They were the servant-ministers of the Church in Jerusalem.  Stephen was excited about his work.  Acts 6:8 tells us:

Stephen, full of grace and power, was doing great wonders and signs among the people.

He was doing what he was supposed to do as a Christmas person and he attracted attention.  The problem was that he attracted the attention of Jews who didn’t like what he was doing.  Now, I say “the problem”.  That just shows how our perspective isn’t fully where it should be.  We see it as a “problem” when we face persecution.  We forget that God is sovereign and that he’s working everything out for the good of his people and the spread of his kingdom.  Persecution is hard and painful, but it’s still “good”.  Remember, Jesus tells us that we find blessing in it.  So it was a “problem” that the Jews were upset by what Stephen was doing, but it wasn’t really a problem.  God was still in control.  We need to keep that in mind in our own lives: Christians don’t have “problems”, we have “opportunities” to exercise our faith.

And Stephen knew that, even as these angry men dragged him before the Sanhedrin and produced all sorts of false witnesses who attested that he was as a blasphemer.  He was on trial and it wasn’t going in his favour.  And yet even as these men told lies about him, St. Luke tells us that Stephen sat there with the face of an angel—he was peaceful even in the face of condemnation.  The one other place in Scripture we hear a description like this is of the face of Moses after he had been with God.  Stephen was close to his Saviour and was experiencing the “peace of the Lord”.

In fact, when the high priest gave Stephen a chance to defend himself, what did Stephen do?  He didn’t try to explain away the things he had said and done that he got him into trouble in the first place.  No.  He took the opportunity to preach the Gospel to the whole Sanhedrin!  He addressed them and started with Abraham and told the story of redemption down through Joseph and Moses.  He told them the stories of their fathers who were rescued from slavery in Egypt and then again how God cared for them in the wilderness and drove out their enemies in Canaan to give them a home—and he stressed how all these things were made possible by God and were his gifts.  And as he told the story, he noted how over and over the people rejected God—gladly claiming the great things he gave them, but never truly receiving God himself.  And with that Stephen brings them right down to Jesus and he says:

You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit.  As your fathers did, so do you.  Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.  (Acts 7:51-53)

He doesn’t pull any punches.  He tells them that in rejecting Christ, they’re doing the same things that their fathers had done before them in rejecting the grace of God and in being disobedient.  We don’t have time this morning to read Stephen’s full sermon, but I urge you to read through it—Acts 7—sometime this next week.  This was a man who was full of passion for his Lord.  He was full of passion to share the Good News, even when he was in the lion’s den.  What strikes me is how what Stephen does here runs counter to so much of what the Church today tells us to do in terms of evangelism.  We’re told today not to be confrontational; we’re told not to talk too much about sin—or not to talk about it all—because that might turn people off; we’re told to focus on the positive; we’re told to witness the Gospel with our lives and that we might get into trouble sharing it with our mouths.  Look at what Stephen does!  Not only does he live the Gospel, but he speaks it out loud and clear!  He confronts these men right for being the religious hypocrites they are.  Stephen didn’t just sit there, quietly and say to himself: “I’m not going to bother with these guys.  I’d just be casting my pearls before swine.”  No, he shared the Good News with them and he did it peacefully and joyfully.  And he did it because he was living in the grace and love of Christmas.  He knew that these men might never come to know the Saviour but for his witness, but he also knew that if they were truly reprobate, their rejection of his Gospel sermon would simply confirm to them and to the world their rejection of the Saviour, and God would have greater glory in their condemnation.  God’s Word never returns void.  Stephen knew that.

St. Luke continues the story and tells us their response:

Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.  And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him.  Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.”  And falling to his knees he cried out with a loud voice,  “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60)

We might read that story and think, “Wow.  Stephen certainly had a bad day!”  Our eyes are blind to God at his work.  Stephen took a faithful stand for his Lord, and even as they got ready to drag him out to be stoned, God granted him a vision of his own glory and of Jesus enthroned beside him.  Stephen’s “bad day” was a good day for the Church, because on that day God set Stephen before the rest of us as a witness—a lesson as to what it means to be Christmas people—people of his grace and his love and his power.  He showed himself to Stephen so that Stephen could show himself and his faith in Christ to the rest of us.

But Stephen’s story does more than just encourage us to share the Good News and to stand firm in our faith.  He reminds us what it means to witness the Gospel in our deeds.  Stephen had that vision of the Lord Jesus before his eyes, and so even as these evil men started hurling stones at him, he responded with Christlike love.  When Jesus was hanging on the cross, do you remember what he prayed?  He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know now what they do.”  To the last Jesus was concerned with the souls and with the eternal state of the people around him—even his enemies.  He was an evangelist to the end, even when there were no more words to say to his persecutors and murderers, he was praying for them.  And Stephen, with his eyes on Jesus, does the same.  There was nothing left to say to these men and there was nothing left for him to do, and so he prayed for them: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.”

Luke tells us that St. Paul was there that day.  He was holding coats so that people could do a better job throwing rocks at Stephen.  Of course, this is when he was known as Saul—before he met Jesus on the Damascus Road and had his life changed forever.  The next verse, 8:1, tells us that Paul approved of Stephen’s execution.  What we don’t know is what impact Stephen’s loving and gracious response had on Paul’s future conversion.  But Luke certainly included this detail for a reason.

Brothers and sisters, Stephen reminds us that we need to be living as Christmas people, not just on Christmas, but each and every day.  But he also shows us very dramatically what it means to live in the life and grace of Christmas—especially in light of St. Luke’s note that Paul was there that day.  We never know who is witnessing us and how those around us may, or may not, be impacted for the Gospel by what we say and what we do and by how we deal with the circumstances of life.  Who would have thought on that day that Saul of Tarsus—Hebrew of Hebrews and member of the Sanhedrin, the man who hunted down Christians and brought them to trial before the Jewish authorities—who would have thought that Stephen’s witness of love and grace that day might change the whole course of Church history as Saul later became Paul, the apostle to the gentiles.

And lastly, Stephen teaches us something about the extreme nature of grace and love and forgiveness.  These men were more than just run-of-the-mill enemies.  These weren’t just men who didn’t like him or were just angry with him.  These were men who saw him as a threat to their existence and wanted to kill him—who did kill him.  Stephen didn’t reciprocate their anger.  No, he saw them as Jesus saw them: sinful men whom he loved and who would face eternal damnation without the Gospel of love and grace.  Stephen knew the love that overcomes a multitude of sins and he knew it because he had experienced it himself through Jesus Christ.  St. John reminds us that anyone who claims to love God, but hates his brother is a liar—that you can’t have experienced the redeeming love of God and still hold grudges and hate in your heart against those who have wronged you.  Friends, to hold a grudge, to resent the sins of others, to fail to show a forgiving spirit, is to be self-righteous—it’s to ignore what God had done for you! Stephen could look on these angry men with love, precisely because he had himself experienced the love of Christ and God’s forgiveness—and he knew that there was nothing these men could do to him that was as bad as even his own smallest offences against God.  God had forgiven him so much—and he realise that so well—that it was a “small” thing for him to forgive these men and to show them love.  Lest we think that Jesus and John are just speaking in hyperbole when they tell us to love our enemies, St. Stephen shows us how the love of Christ really does work out in our lives—or at least how it should, if we truly claim to love God and to have experienced his grace and forgiveness.

So remember today: We are a Christmas people, living in the grace and love of God.  But remember too that God calls us to be Christmas people every day of our lives and not just in the Christmas season..  The joy of Christmas is something that should permeate every aspect of our lives that we might be witnesses, even to our enemies and even to those who would kill us, of the love and grace that God has shown us through his Son.  And so we pray, “Grant, O Lord, that in all our sufferings for the testimony of your truth we may look up steadfastly to heaven and see by faith the glory that is to be revealed and, filled with the Holy Spirit, may learn to love and pray for our persecutors as St. Stephen your first martyr prayed for his murderers to you, blessed Jesus, where you stand at the right hand of God to help all who suffer for you, our only mediator and advocate.  Amen.”

Did Mary Know? ~ The Rev. Dcn. Scott Brown, OPI

Did Mary Know?

The angel Gabriel was sent from God
to a town of Galilee called Nazareth,
to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph,
of the house of David,
and the virgin’s name was Mary.
And coming to her, he said,
“Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.”
But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her,
“Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.

“Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,
and you shall name him Jesus.
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
But Mary said to the angel,
“How can this be,
since I have no relations with a man?”
And the angel said to her in reply,
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you,
and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
Therefore the child to be born
will be called holy, the Son of God.
And behold, Elizabeth, your relative,
has also conceived a son in her old age,
and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren;
for nothing will be impossible for God.”
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.

Isn’t this one of the most beautiful passages in the Bible? I think so. Think about it for a second; before Jesus was born his entire life was planned out and God knew what was going to happen with his Son, son of Mary. This brings to my mind one of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever written. Mary Did You Know? A lot of groups sing it. It gives me chills every time I hear it.

 And it makes me stop and think what must have been going through Mary’s mind when the angel appeared to her. She was a virgin – how was Joseph going to react to the news that she was with child? What would her parents think? What would everybody think? In that day and age being pregnant out of wedlock was a huge no-no. A woman could be stoned to death for such an infraction of what was a moral code in that time. She had to be scared out of her mind.  Her mind must have been racing with thousands of thoughts and concerns. Not only was she going to give birth to a child that for all purposes to all who looked upon her was conceived out of wedlock.

But the child is actually the son of God. Who would believe that story? Joseph didn’t believe it at first, but he came around soon enough. I can not imagine having to deal with what this woman was about to go through.

Can you imagine her thoughts?

Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?

This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would give sight to a blind man?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would calm the storm with his hand?

Did you know that your baby boy
Has walked where angels trod?
When you kiss your little baby
You kiss the face of God
Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know?

Mary, did you know? Did you know?
Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?
Mary, did you know? Mary, did you know?

The blind will see, the deaf will hear
The dead will live again
The lame will leap, the dumb will speak
The praises of the Lamb
Mary, did you know that your baby boy

Is Lord of all creation?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day rule the nations?
Did you know that your baby boy
Is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

That sleeping child you’re
Holding is the great, I Am
Mary, did you know? (Mary, did you know?)
Mary, did you know? (Mary, did you know?)
Mary, did you know? Oh

What a beautiful group of words! WOW! Did Mary know any of this? She certainly knew that the baby she was carrying was very special, but could she have any idea of all the miracles He would perform? The blind would be given sight, the deaf would regain their hearing and the lame would leap. He would calm storms, feed thousands and best of all he will give up his life for all of us. I don’t think she hand any idea that her little baby would do all that and more. It just gives me chills and brings a tear to my eye when I hear this song.

We have a local radio station here in Albuquerque that play nothing but Christmas music beginning the day after Thanksgiving. I leave the house every morning at the same time and I pull into my parking place the same time every morning. I sit in my car for a few minutes and wait because every morning at 7:23 they play Mary Did You Know, the Pentatonix acapella version. It’s a great way to start the day because it reminds me every morning what our Lord and Savior went through and also what Mary went through.

When we pray the Hail Mary we should be mindful of what she experienced: Blessed art thou among women and blessed was the fruit of her womb, for without the fruit of her womb there would be no hope for us. We should think of Mary and Jesus when we pray the rosary, and pray the rosary every day.

Happy Holidays, God Bless us all, and thank you Mary for what you gave us.

Hail Mary, 
Full of Grace, 
The Lord is with thee. 
Blessed art thou among women, 
and blessed is the fruit
of thy womb, Jesus. 
Holy Mary, 
Mother of God, 
pray for us sinners now, 
and at the hour of our death.

Amen

Here is a link to one of my favorite versions of Mary Did You Know just in case you want to listen. Enjoy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ifCWN5pJGIE

Gaudete! The Rev Dcn Igor Kalinski, OPI

Dominican Hermitage & Oratory of St’s. Peregrine & Sebastian, GEVGELIJA~MACEDONIA

Dear brothers and sisters, preparing  ourselves in this special season of grace, in awaiting for the incarnation of our Lord Jesus, that took flesh to save us and redeem us.

This Sunday Gaudete announce to us the joyfulness of this great event in human history of salvation. Ornaments, and glittering objects are now more decorated and the third candle of the advent crown is beautiful light rose color, as those two before of violet purple symbolizing the penitential preparation for Christ, to be reborn in us, in or hearts, and us preparing with good confession, penitential rite, actions of merciful volunteering for those in need, the vulnerable is good way to approach for help.

For Jesus was not place in the motel, how illustrated revelation of this very big announcement, it’s not about the palace, it’s about the manger. Blessed are those who don’t have their heart in the material possessions.

So my brothers and sisters, lets strive with that simplicity to free ourselves of all distractions that stop us to pray and deepen our relationship with our God, and above all where are those forgotten, I know every village , every town and every city have those marginalized people, make this Sunday in this advent Gaudete, Gaudete for all of you, bring the joy to those people, cook something and offer to them, listen to their needs, they also want to talk and express their needs , and problems, communicate more.

Difficult times, many things are in from of us such as the tribulations that start to spread to every corner of the globe. And in all of this trials, Jesus is the one who give us peace, and provide our needs, we will never be forgotten, and as God so loved this world and send his Son for our salvation, now is the season to witness that he really was born, still many deny, we witness that this special season of grace is the preparation of His first coming in flesh and reminding of the Advent of his second return too. His promises are always fulfilled.

Stay faithful, burn your light daily, and prepare like the wise virgins to expect the Bridegroom, who is Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen.

The Feast of St. Andrew ~ The Very Rev. Lady Sherwood, OPI

Reading 1: ROM 10:9-18

Responsorial Psalm: PS 19:8, 9, 10, 11

Gospel: MT 4:18-22

Liturgical colour: Red.

Today we come together to celebrate the feast day  of St. Andrew the Apostle.   Andrew was Jesus’ very first disciple.

Let us reflect on one of the qualities of Andrew:  that quality being his of∙his readiness to respond to our Lord Jesus Christ’s call to follow him.

We hear Andrew’s call story today in today’s Holy Gospel reading of MT 4:18=22. As Jesus walks along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he notices two brothers, Simon Peter & Andrew, who were engrossed in their daily work of fishing. As Andrew & Peter cast their nets into the sea, Jesus calls to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!”

This call must have caught the brothers’ attention. – They must’ve wondered what Jesus could possibly have meant by saying, to be fishers of men. However, Andrew responded wholeheartedly to Jesus’ call.

Andrew followed Jesus – without any reservations or any hesitation – Most likely with a lot of curiosity, but never the less, with total devotion – Andrew immediately left his fishing nets, perhaps letting them sink into the water. 

Andrew had a heart which was prepared to hear & to heed Jesus’ call, with all that he had & all that he was. Because Andrew’s heart was prepared for Jesus, he did not have to be in a holy place like in a Church to hear his call, neither did he need to have been going about particularly holy work to perceive Jesus’ call to him. Andrew heard Jesus call in the midst of his ordinary daily  life’s work,  during his usual  routine day, at a moment when he was casting his fishing net out into the waters of the sea.

Andrew was held near to the word as summarized in the 10 Commandments.

The word as condensed by Jesus into the two great commandments,

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And love your neighbour as yourself.

This word – this instruction for living in a way that brings both self & neighbours closer to God – was alive within Andrew’s life – it was on his lips & in his heart.

Jewish people living in Andrew’s time & for centuries before had studied God’s word – they had engaged God’s Holy Scripture – in very active, dynamic, & relational ways:

by reciting it out loud to one another & in groups;

by soaking up the spoken words & paying close attention;

by the struggle that is teaching & learning;

by discussing what this word meant for them in lively, curious, creative, & probing ways.

This encounter with God through the Word — through the living of Scripture in everyday life— enabled Andrew to perceive so much more than the written word which had come to life in him.

Andrew was able to perceive the Word made Flesh, Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the midst of an ordinary, routine day.

The word is very near to all of us as Christians and followers of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The word should be in our mouths and on our lips, & in our heart, our soul, and  in our minds for us to observe.

The Word made Flesh, Jesus the Christ, is very near us.. calling us through our sacred scripture…through the bread & the wine of The Holy Eucharist … through the our which share the Peace…through our voices lifted in song, prayer, and praise…through our faces & our personalities in church and in our everyday lives.

 May each of us together… learn from Andrew how near these words of God are…how they seek unceasingly to engage & to dwell with us…that we may respond wholeheartedly to Jesus when he calls us…that we may participate together, in community, in the life everlasting.