The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you Peace. (Numbers 6: 24-26)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Wednesday Night at CMEC

We had a special service last night, because we celebrated our chapel's patronal feast in honor of St. Anne, the mother of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  Along with her husband, St. Joachim, we remember them because of their faithfulness and the love and confidence in God the Father witnessed in their daughter.  Mary's response to the Archangel Gabriel was one rooted in her close, personal relationship with God, and tradition suggests that Joachim and Anne were key in Mary's knowledge and love of God.

We are also approaching a milestone in our Wednesday Night Class.  Next week, August 4th will be our final foray into Celtic Spirituality.  I think our study of the Early Christian church in Hibernia and Britannia have been interesting and hopefully enlightening for our own spiritual lives and practices, but it is now time for something new.

"But, Father," cries out Dear Reader, "whatever shall we study now?"

Fear not, Dear Reader, for the answer is at hand.  I have been praying about what direction our Wednesday Night Book Study should go for several weeks, and I have come to the inescapable conclusion that we should return to that which is the foundation of all that we believe and practice: Holy Scripture.

Beginning August 11, Wednesday Night Bible Study will commence with a study of the Book of Judges.  Judges is the seventh book of the Old Testament and contains the account of God's Chosen People from the death of Joshua to the calling of Samuel and his subsequent annointing of Saul to be the first king of Israel.  In this book are contained the lives of Gideon, Deborah, Sampson and many others who were raised up by God to defend His people in times of great peril.  It also gives us a clear witness of the infinite faithfulness of God and the seemingly limitless unfaithfulness of His people.

We will begin with chapter 1, verse 1 of Judges and move through the book taking as much time as need to read, ponder and inwardly digest this inspired word of God.  All you need to do is bring a Bible and an appetite because we will still be having a wonderful potluck meal right after Mass.  I will be using the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, but I think it is great if we have multiple translations at our fingertips during the class.  My experience with this type of study has been that a lecture format works best because of the amount of material that we have to cover.  Therefore, I will teach using handouts and sometimes maps or presentations, but I will give plenty of time for questions and discussion at appropriate times. 

I love teaching and learning the Bible, and I hope that everyone in the parish will make the effort to come and check out Wednesday Night Bible Study.  Remember, it begins with choir practice at 5 PM, Mass at 6 PM with dinner following, and then Bible Study at 7:15 PM.  Y'all come, now!

Fr. Michael+

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

"Thy Will Be Done...."

It seems, Dear Reader, that most of my attention in the last few days has been focused on Christian Formation. This is decidedly not a bad thing. Truth be told, a good bit of my attention is always focused on Christian Formation; and, I boldly say, so should yours.

“Oh, that’s just great, Father,” Dear Reader exclaims, “but what exactly is this Christian Formation of which you speak?”

Simply put, Christian Formation is the life-long exercise to conform our will to that of Our Heavenly Father. Usually, we begin our Christian walk at a very early age learning about God, Jesus, and the Church from our parents and family. As we grow, we add to that our experiences in Church and in Sunday School, a process that continues for the better part of our young lives. That is, for many people, the epitome of Christian Formation.

It goes much further than that, however. Serving as an acolyte on Sunday mornings is an important part of one’s Formation as a follower of Christ. So is serving as a Chalice Bearer or singing in the Choir or serving as an usher or lector. All of these things give us an opportunity to serve God and each other and exercise our ministries in His Church. Likewise, serving on Vestry or on any of the many committees of the church allow us opportunities to learn and grow in His Will.

Just because we are older, Dear Reader, does not mean that we can ever stop learning, and that is why I feel it is so important to offer different ways to learn and live the Faith that has been delivered to us from Christ. On Wednesday nights, we study different aspects of our Faith, spirituality, and our traditional Anglican heritage. Starting soon we will be offering a comprehensive Confirmation Course that will be open to everyone in the parish, not just those seeking the Sacrament of Confirmation. This class will cover the basics of our Faith, including the Sacraments, the Creeds, the Ten Commandments, prayer, spirituality and the doctrine and history of the Anglican Faith.

Everything we do, the study, the service, the prayer, and the worship, should serve to bring our human wills into closer proximity to the Divine Will of He who has created all things and, in turn, made all things new. By knowing God and then by showing God to our neighbors and to the world, we bring ourselves into a closer and closer relationship with Him. That is what He wants.

Over the coming months there will be more and more opportunities for us to learn, worship and grow together into the people that God wants us to be. Remember, that we are constantly being formed. What we must decide, each and every day, is what will do the forming: the world or the Will of God.

Fr. Michael+

Confirmation Class Set to Begin

In the rubrics which describe the Sacrament of Confirmation in the Book of Common Prayer we find the following instructions:

In the course of their Christian development, those baptized at an early age are expected, when they are ready and have been duly prepared, to make a mature public affirmation of their faith and commitment to the responsibilities of their Baptism and to receive the laying on of hands by the bishop. BCP pg. 412
In keeping with the rubrics, we will offer a Confirmation Class for any youth who is at least a freshman in High School, has a desire to make their public profession before the bishop and the parish, and is ready to be duly prepared. The classes will begin on Sunday, September 19 following the 10:00 AM Mass and will meet each Sunday, with the exception of certain Sundays and holidays, until the bishop’s visitation on February 13. There will be lunch provided each Sunday for those attending the class.

This class is more than just a training course for young people. I would like for it to be an opportunity for anyone in the parish to experience their faith and to learn about what it means to be a Christian first and an Anglican second. Bishop MacPherson will lay hands on those being Confirmed. He will also be laying hands and praying for anyone who wishes to be Received from another denomination or anyone wishing to be Reaffirmed in the faith.

This is a long course of study, I know, and to some it may seem excessive. In the first two or three centuries of the Church, it was common for those wishing to be Baptized and Confirmed as adults to study and pray under the tutelage of a bishop or priest for up to three years before receiving the Sacraments. I don’t think we need to invest quite that much time, but I believe that it is vital for everyone’s Christian Formation to be ready and duly prepared.

If you are interested in Confirmation, or would like to attend the classes then please contact Fr. Michael.

Fr. Michael+

Calling All Acolytes

We will soon begin acolyte training for any interested youth aged 8 years old or older. Serving as an acolyte offers the youth of the parish a great way to serve Christ in His Church and to be involved in the worship on Sundays and other special Festival occasions. We are also establishing this year a training program for junior acolytes ages 5-8 years old. This will give the younger members of the parish an opportunity to learn and serve in ways appropriate for to their age. Anyone interested in joining the Acolyte Guild should contact Fr. Michael or Br. Ken.

Fr. Michael+

Thursday, July 22, 2010

"Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned..."

When was the last time you went to Confession? For most Anglicans, the answer will be, “the last time I went to church.” In our tradition, if you have been to Mass, you have probably also been to confession.

I broach this subject because of the topic of our discussion at Book Study last night, “The Penitential of Cummean”. For many, I imagine, this was an unusual foray into unfamiliar and slightly unsettled territory. In a nutshell, penitentials of the 7th and 8th centuries were attempts to express a “cure” for the disease of sin. The penitentials provided a guide for the priest as he assigned penance as part of the Sacrament of Reconciliation, and the effect of the penitentials reached far beyond Ireland, Wales or England, influencing how the Church dispensed absolution and penance well into to Middle Ages.

“But, Fr. Michael,” I hear Dear Reader saying to the computer screen, “didn’t the Catholic Church go completely overboard with that whole Confession thing? I mean, what about the Indulgences?”

Good point, Dear Reader. Anglo-Catholic that I am, I recognize that the system of Indulgences which grew out of the honest attempt to reconcile oneself to God was erroneous and fraught with abuse. By the 16th century, Martin Luther called the Church to task and challenged the Church to examine her excesses so that she could be reformed; which ultimately she was at the Council of Trent.

Private Confession had been the way of the Church since 1215, but in 1549 the English Church embraced a new approach: corporate Confession. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, who was most singularly responsible for the production of the first Book of Common Prayer, included in the Eucharist a new form of the sacrament that allowed those about to receive Holy Communion the opportunity to offer their sins to God and to receive absolution from the Celebrant in turn. This public form of Confession retained the importance of recognizing one’s faults before God and emphasized the merciful character of Christ who forgives all our sins when we humbly turn to Him and away from the things that separate us from Him.

“So, Father,” Dear Reader is now asking, “all we have to do is read a prayerfrom the book and we’re done. That’s great!”

On the surface, Dear Reader, that might seem to be the case. Absolution is indeed absolution, but in order for us to be absolved of our sins, we must first offer them up to God, and in order for us to truly offer them up to God we must bring them to mind and reflect upon the effects of those sins on our relationship with Him. In order to do that, we should spend time prior to the Mass in honest self-examination and reflection. Just because we are not climbing into a little booth and verbally expressing our sins to the priest does not mean that we shouldn’t take the time to consider our faults and offer them with due humility and contriteness of heart to Him that washes us clean.

“Okay, Father, I get the point,” continues Dear Reader, “but I was leafing through the BCP last Sunday during your sermon (no offense), and I found this thing called Reconciliation. It looks like private Confession. What gives?”

No offense taken; it is private Confession. Remember, the Anglican Reformation retained many of the fundamental doctrines of the Church following her break with Rome. We have bishops and priests who are ordained in the Apostolic line that stretches back through Peter to Jesus Christ, and we have the Sacrament of Confession, both corporate and private. Sometimes, we feel the acute burden of our sins in such a way that requires a more personal form of the contrition and absolution. Sometimes we need advice or spiritual counseling in order to help us turn away from that which weighs us down and separates us from God. Certainly, God gives us the strength to persevere when we seek it, and this is one of the ways that He provides through His Church for us to face our faults, find His guidance and receive His Love and Mercy.

Does everyone have to come to the priest for private Confession? No. Are there times when we should go to the priest for Confession? Yes. When and to whom one does this is strictly between them, God and their priest, and what is said stays between them, God and their priest.

If you want to talk some more about it, Dear Reader, my door is always open.

Fr. Michael+

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Light Perpetual....

I am saddened to announce the passing of Monika Christian this past Sunday following a long battle with cancer.  Jeanne is doing well and is appreciative of your prayers for Monika and for her.  There will be a Memorial Service in Houston and a graveside service here, but the details have not been settled.  I will put up another post as soon as we know anything more.

Please continue to pray for Monika and Jeanne.

May her soul and the souls of all the departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace; and may light perpetual shine upon her.

Fr. Michael+

Monday, July 19, 2010

The Presence of God

“The holiest, most universal and most necessary practice in the spiritual life is the presence of God. To practice the presence of God is to take pleasure in and become accustomed to His Divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly in our hearts with Him at all times, and at every moment, especially in times of temptation, pain, spiritual dryness, revulsion to spiritual things, and even unfaithfulness and sin.” The First Spiritual Maxim of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection.

There is an awkwardness that accompanies time spent with a person or persons that one does not know very well. Try sitting on an airplane…in coach…in the middle seat…with strangers on both sides, and you’ll know what I mean. The introductions and polite small talk are easy enough, but once you’ve exhausted the pleasantries, how do you spend your time for the ensuing flight.

It is far more enjoyable to spend time with someone with whom we have a relationship; someone we know; someone we trust.

I love to go to the movies; I always have. Seeing the movie projected on that huge screen, the rumble of sound system, the popcorn, the thrill of an adventure that was seemingly out of space and out of time are all exciting and attractive to me. Yet, when I was younger, there was one anxiety that somewhat diminished my movie going experience: a stranger sitting next to me in the theater! What if they talked during the movie? What if they tried to talk to me? What if they wanted to use the arm rest? AHHHHHHHHHHH.

I’m over that now, but it illustrates well the point about feeling comfortable in the presence of a stranger.

There is a basic truth that we all must recognize: God is with us. He was present with His people in any number of ways as described in the Old Testament. He became incarnate of the Virgin Mary and was made man so that He was physically present with us for a time. He is with us today in and through the presence of the Holy Ghost, the Counselor, the Spirit of God who indwells each and every one of us. God is never farther away than an airline passenger or a fellow movie-goer.

God is present in our lives even when there is no one else around. He is there in the quiet private times, the busy work times and everywhere in between. He is there in the mundane tasks of daily life and in the soaring worship on Sunday morning. The question that we must answer for ourselves is: How comfortable are we with His presence?

Any plane ride is more comfortable when the persons sitting next to you are friends, even if you don’t say a word to each other for the entire flight. Watching a movie with a friend is far more enjoyable, despite the periodic jockeying for ownership of the armrest.

God is present with us, of that there can be no doubt. The more we work on recognizing and building our relationship with Him, the more comfortable we will be in His presence, and the closer we will become to Him who made and keeps us.

Fr. Michael+

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Rest in Peace

On Friday, Deacon Kay and I officiated at the funeral for Julie Evans.  The outpouring of love and support for her family by the community was remarkable.  On behalf of all the parishioners of Christ Memorial, I offer our condolences and our prayers to Patsy, Bill, Darla, Jeffery, Rachel and all the Lawhon and Evans family and friends who were so meaningfully touched by Julie during her life.

We will miss her.

We have Faith that we will join her walking in His nearer presence.

Pax vobiscum.

Fr. Michael+

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Light Perpetual....

Julie Evans died this morning at home in the presence of her family and under the prayerful watch of many, many friends.  Her Memorial Service is scheduled for 11:00 AM on Friday at Roseneath Funeral Home in Mansfield.  There will be a visitation at Roseneath Thursday evening from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM.  I will post any additional information as it becomes available.

May her soul and the souls of all the departed rest in peace, and may light perpetual shine upon them.

Father Michael+

Monday, July 12, 2010

A Reflection on Plumb

Imagine the relatively easy task of putting up a new curtain rod over a bedroom window. Once all the due diligence is performed, the measuring, the marking, the re-measuring, the leveling; the proud curtain hangers stand back to admire their work and discover that, despite all the effort, the rod is not level. Curses! The level comes back out, but the little bubble of air falls mockingly dead center where it should between the two little vertical lines. Yet, from the other side of the room, the eye of the beholder betrays an awful fact: the rod does not look level!

But wait, thinks one of the dedicated decorators, there might be something else afoot. Taking the level in hand, a suspicion is confirmed: the rod is indeed level, but the ceiling is not.

It all comes down to a matter of perspective. When we look at a picture on the wall or at the curtain rod above a window, we measure it’s symmetry based on what else our eye sees around it. I dare say that very few houses, even of the finest construction and quality are completely “square”, especially when you consider the effects of time upon the structure and the land upon which it was built. We have lived in several old houses whose “character” was easily visible in the slants of its floors and curves of its lines.

This is all well and good when one is considering wall hangings or draperies, but there are greater implications to us and to our lives as we consider how we determine what is plumb and what is not.

He showed me: behold, the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in His hand.  Amos 7: 7
When building a wall, it is crucial that it be built plumb, or vertical, so that it can be reasonably sure to remain upright and sound. The first course of any wall should be set on firm and level ground, yet how does one ensure that the ground itself is level? As the wall is further constructed, does one merely trust the “eye” that compares the verticality of the growing structure to the land around it, or to the tree in the background, or even to another wall nearby? In order to ensure that the wall is sound, the mason must be able to compare his work to a true representation of what is vertical. In other words, he must be able to follow something more reliable that his own perspective.

Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel….    Amos 7: 8
When looking at the world around us, it is easy to become convinced that the wall we just built is completely straight and sound. In fact, there might be many people who pass our wall as we work and complement us on how magnificent is our construction. Swelling with pride and satisfaction, we continue to build, confident that our wall is right in line with the world around it and that nothing could be more perfect or more desirable. Until it begins to lean, threatening to topple over under its own weight.
I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.   Amos 9: 14
In order for our walls to be straight and true, we must have a reference that is itself straight and true. God has revealed to us the Truth in His presence with His Chosen People, in the words spoken by the prophets of old, and in the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, His Son. We cannot build our lives based upon the fallen condition of the world around us. The standards of this world are much too corrupt and unreliable. Rather, if we are to build for ourselves a life like that which is desired for us by our Father, then we must use a true measure of plumb, and we must rely, not on a mason to guide us in our work, but on a carpenter to show us the way.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Another Great Class

On a warm and humid Wednesday night, the faithful gathered at Christ Memorial for Mass, a meal and study of Celtic Spirituality.  Even with several of our regulars away from us for various reasons, the turn out was good, the worship uplifting, the food magnificent and the class engaging.  A very special thanks to all those who prepared and served the food.

The subject of the class was St. Patrick, and it blended perfectly with our celebration of the Feast of St. Palladius of Ireland.  We discussed Patrick's background, his formation during his time as a slave in Ireland and his ultimate return as a Missionary Bishop to the island so that they could be released from their slavery by the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We focused a great deal on the presence of the Holy Spirit in Patrick's life, and how it was through prayer and the Spirit's indwelling of his soul that he was able to follow the path that God had prepared for Patrick.  We read parts of Patrick's "Confessio", and, I think, all gained a deeper understanding of the significance of Patrick's legacy in teaching us how to be accepting of God's Grace.

Next week, we are going to discuss a text which dates from the early 10th Century.  It is called "The Voyage of Brendan" and is an account of the saint's journeys across the sea in a search for the "Promised Land of the Saints".  This text builds upon the older, pagan mythological stories of voyage and discovery, but makes it a uniquely Christian quest for the "Promised Land" or the "Kingdom of Heaven".  As with all the texts we are going to examine in this class, we are looking particularly at how the Early Christians in Ireland came to understand their relationship with the Almighty God, so that we can, in turn, explore and strengthen our own spiritual connection with God.

I have been remiss in not mentioning up to now that there is another activity that takes place on Wednesday night.  Beginning at 5:00 PM, the Choir meets to practice and plan for upcoming Sunday Eucharists.  We have a dedicated group of folks who make up the Christ Memorial Choir, and they are eager to show more people how fun and meaningful it can be to be a part of the Choir.  No need for professional experience or training to join.  Many find the idea of singing in front of people to be somewhat terrifying, but rest assured that whatever fear you may have, the benefit to yourself and the to the enhanced worship of your fellow parishioners is that much greater.  If you feel led by the Spirit to be a part of the Choir, all you need to is show up on Wednesday night.  We'd love to have you.

Remember, choir practice is at 5:00; Mass is at 6:00; dinner at 6:45 and class at 7:15.  Maybe we'll see you there.

Fr. Michael+

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Great Class Last Night

I think our class last night was excellent.  We started with Mass in the Chapel, and then ate a fantastic meal compliments of some great ladies.  The class itself was a presentation that I found on the internet from one of the most interesting and spiritual people I've ever met.  We watched a presentation made by the Rt. Rev'd Donald Parsons, VI Bishop of Quincy (ret.) to last month's meeting of Forward in Faith North America.  His topic was "Ascetical Theology and Practice in the Light of the Oxford Movement", and it was brilliant.

His primary focus was on two aspects of our spiritual life: prayer and the development of a rule of life.  Bishop Parsons illuminated the need for a balanced prayer life as only he can do.  Holding up a different finger on his hand, he counted off five types of prayer and gave illustrations of their benefits to our continued walk with God.
          1st Finger:  Petition - Please God give me a bicycle.
          2nd Finger:  Intercession - Please God give her a bicycle.
          3rd Finger:  Penitence - Please God forgive me for stealing that bicycle.
          4th Finger:  Thanksgiving - Thank you God for this bicycle.
          5th Finger:  Adoration - God you are great, and you make a swell bicycle.

He finished with a compelling explanation of why we should adopt a rule of life, including many practical examples of how it continues to develop over time.  He cautioned against trying to take on too much, too fast.  Begin slowly and deliberately and grow toward a practice that will allow us to be available to God's Grace.

This is, after all, the key to any kind of spiritual life: remaining available to God's Grace.  He makes it available, every day.  It is up to us to be in the best position possible so that we can receive it and live our lives according to His Will.

I wish I had said that.

Pax vobiscum,
Fr. Michael+