Tuesday, May 29, 2012

A Great Confession

This is a great reading from St Augustine's Confessions:

From the Confessions of Saint Augustine, bishop
(Lib 10,1,1-2,2;5,7 CSEL 33, 226-227, 230-231)

Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny

Lord, you know me. Let me know you. Let me come to know you even as I am known. You are the strength of my soul; enter it and make it a place suitable for your dwelling, a possession without spot or blemish. This is my hope and the reason I speak. In this hope I rejoice, when I rejoice rightly. As for the other things of this life, the less they deserve tears, the more likely will they be lamented; and the more they deserve tears, the less likely will men sorrow for them. For behold, you have loved the truth, because the one who does what is true enters into the light. I wish to do this truth before you alone by praising you, and before a multitude of witnesses by writing of you.

O Lord, the depths of a man’s conscience lie exposed before your eyes. Could anything remain hidden in me, even though I did not want to confess it to you? In that case I would only be hiding you from myself, not myself from you. But now my sighs are sufficient evidence that I am displeased with myself; that you are my light and the source of my joy; that you are loved and desired. I am thoroughly ashamed of myself; I have renounced myself and chosen you, recognizing that I can please neither you nor myself unless you enable me to do so.

Whoever I may be, Lord, I lie exposed to your scrutiny. I have already told of the profit I gain when I confess to you. And I do not make my confession with bodily words, bodily speech, but with the words of my soul and the cry of my mind which you hear and understand. When I am wicked, my confession to you is an expression of displeasure with myself. But when I do good, it consists in not attributing this goodness to myself. For you, O Lord, bless the just man, but first you justify the wicked. And so I make my confession before you in silence, and yet not in silence. My voice is silent but my heart cries out.

You, O Lord, are my judge. For though no one knows a man’s innermost self except the man’s own spirit within him, yet there is something in a man which even his own spirit does not know. But you know all of him, for you have made him. As for me, I despise myself in your sight, knowing that I am but dust and ashes; yet I know something of you that I do not know of myself.

True, we see now indistinctly as in a mirror, but not yet face to face. Therefore, so long as I am in exile from you, I am more present to myself than to you. Yet I do know that you cannot be overcome, while I am uncertain which temptations I can resist and which I cannot. Nevertheless, I have hope, because you are faithful and do not allow us to be tempted beyond our endurance, but along with the temptation you give us the means to withstand it.

I will confess, therefore, what I know of myself, and also what I do not know. The knowledge that I have of myself, I possess because you have enlightened me; while the knowledge of myself that I do not yet possess will not be mine until my darkness shall be made as the noonday sun before your face.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Having A Personal Pentecost

Yesterday I was ordained to the diaconate and today I preached my first official homily.  It's a different approach than before, but the same message....

Having A Personal Pentecost
Scriptures (Cycle B):  Acts 2:1–11, Galatians 5:16–25, John 15:26,27; 16:12–15

I am relatively new to the Catholic Church.  Until 2007 I had spent the previous 33 years as an Evangelical pastor, most of them in a small local denomination. The focus of my ministry was preaching, and I would normally give 25-40 minute sermons, working serially through books of the Bible.  Now I am having to learn a new model of preaching. I must confess, though, that I resonate with something Jesus says in today’s Gospel: “I have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  Anyway, I will not preach for 40 minutes this morning (or even 25)!
In 1999 I took my first steps toward the Catholic Church, although I had no idea at the time.  I was searching for more intimacy with God and was introduced to Catholic spirituality through The Liturgy of the Hours.  By 2003 I was slipping into Saturday Vigil Mass at St Joan of Arc (I live and was pastoring in Elizabethtown, and this parish is both large and distant enough that I could be anonymous).  By 2006 I realized I was more Catholic than Protestant so I resigned from the congregation I had pastored for 18 years.  In 2007 my wife and I officially entered the Church in this parish.
Now that I am here I am thrilled.... and amazed.... and intimidated.  I knew my role before, and now at age 60 I feel as if I’m starting all over again.  Yet one fundamental constant has not changed: a total commitment to Jesus Christ. Christianity is Jesus Christ. We are called to be united with, to know and to be like Jesus. How can we do this? Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel: It is through the Holy Spirit.
The reason we are here on this Pentecost Sunday is because the Father loves us and gave us the Son.  Likewise, the Son loves us and gave himself for us (we affirm this regularly in the Creed).  Part of that giving is the Spirit –– God wants us to have his Spirit:  So Jesus gives us his Spirit, and the Spirit is released within the Church.
Part of my journey to the Catholic Church was the realization that I had not given much thought to the church-as-a-whole. The bit of recognition given to the whole church in my background was called “the invisible Body of Christ” (which is really more like the “soul” of Christ instead of a coherent visible Body on earth). Then I began to see that Catholic Faith has the Church front and center.  It is the graces given through the Church that bring us to Christ and keep us on the journey of grace which can lead us finally to heaven.
I began to see that my theological formation had focused on personal experience and that the Catholic focus is more on corporate sacramental grace. It seems that too often the two are understood to be either/or; they should be both/and.  Christians who understand their faith primarily as personal experience need the sacramental graces of the Church, and Christians who are grounded in the sacramental graces of the Church need a conscious, personal identification with Jesus that affects the way they understand themselves and how they live every day.  Both expressions of Christian faith –– the personal and the corporate –– are a work of the Holy Spirit.
There is a crucial point to all of this: Jesus gives his Spirit to us so that we can be connected intimately to all that God intended when he created us.  Yet because of that long-ago disobedience in the Garden, we are born broken people in a broken world. We need to be saved, and that is what has happened in and through Jesus Christ. Salvation is not only the forgiveness of ours sins (although that is incredible), but also our transformation (so that we can become like Jesus).  Jesus came into our world and lived a perfect human life.  He is everything that Adam was meant to be (and we ourselves).  Our calling as Christians is to be like Jesus, and Jesus gives us his Spirit so that can become reality.
We are to be different because the Spirit of Jesus lives in us! The Epistle reading for today gives the contrast:  life lived in sin with its brokenness.... or life lived in the Spirit with the character of Jesus himself.  Think about the first list: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. These things tear us apart and make life a misery. This list sounds like the news media –– we hear it every day: shootings, abuse in families, treachery in politics, road rage, a culture obsessed with sex....  But then think of the second list: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.... it sounds like a description of Jesus. Here are qualities that give healing and hope to a world dying in pain –– the pain of a self-autonomy that lashes out and leaves everyone wounded.  The fruit of the Spirit describes how we are called to live as Christians –– as “Christ-like ones”.
The way that we turn away from the first list and embrace the beauty of the second is given in familiar words we find in the earliest proclamations of the Gospel:  repent and believe the good news.
Part of the good news is that Jesus gives us his Spirit. It is the Spirit that came upon Jesus in his baptism and empowered his ministry, and later raised him from the dead. It is the Sprit that immediately began to transform the lives of those first disciples so that the crowd was amazed.
Jesus wants to transform each of our lives so that, as we live in this broken and hurting world, people who do not have faith (or who are weak in faith) will see Jesus in us and also be amazed.  It happens when we invite the Holy Spirit to be at work in us every day.  Jesus started this process in my life when I was in my teens. I had an incredible conversion experience that truly changed my life.  But it was mostly “personal,” and for years I had no idea what I was missing from the Church. Perhaps many of you are the opposite of me (Jesus works his transformation from many different starting points). Perhaps you are well-rooted in the Church, but when you are alone out there in the world or even without the support of the Liturgy, your faith is not as personal as you’d like for it to be.  Maybe you have wondered, “Where is the power of the Holy Spirit in my daily life?”
What we really believe about the Holy Spirit is not found only in our doctrines and creeds. It is fleshed out in our day to day lives. We can understand Scripture and confess the Creed each Sunday (and that is important), and yet not really know, experientially, anything of the real person of the Holy Spirit. Knowing the Holy Spirit means we open ourselves to be invaded. We are allowing someone else to come in and control our lives.
One day my wife and I were waiting in a bank for an appointment. As we stood over in the corner, a man came in and went to the counter in the usual way. After he had been there a short time, the conversation began to escalate; his voice got increasingly louder. Within a couple of minutes everyone in the bank knew not only that he was upset, but why. It seems he had a check made out to someone else, his daughter.  She had endorsed it, and he was there to cash it. The teller would not do it. He protested they had done it before (then, it was a mistake). He reminded them he came in every week and they knew him (but they had a policy which allowed no exceptions). By this time he was livid.... and loud. In a most abusive tone he said he would be back in one hour, and he wanted all his accounts cleared with his money waiting for him. And with that, he stormed out.
I do not consider myself to be the most patient person. I know what it feels like to be in situations that are inconvenient and frustrating. I know what it is to feel that someone else is being either incompetent or obstinate just to ruin my immediate plans. But with God's help I try not to act out like that man in the bank, and I’m helped because I have asked the Holy Spirit to control my life.  I want to be like Jesus.
Christian Faith is not meant to be passive; it is active.  May I give you an assignment for this week?  Each day when you look at yourself in the mirror –– brushing your teeth or combing your hair –– look yourself in the eyes and affirm your faith in Jesus, and then realize: "the Spirit of God has been given to me. . . the risen Son of God lives in me. . . Father God is enabling me to show something of himself through my life!" Then ask the Lord to make that a reality in your life throughout the day. You will begin to experience your own personal Pentecost!
Deacon David L. Hall, D. Min.
Heart for God, Ltd.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

When the Spirit Comes

Not only forgiveness, but transformation..... This was the message from the beginning and it is affirmed by the Church Fathers.  As we prepare for Pentecost, this ancient message is timely!

From a commentary on the gospel of John by Saint Cyril of Alexandria, bishop
(Lib. 10: PG 74, 434)

If I do not go away, the Comforter will not come to you

After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit.

It was most fitting that the sending of the Spirit and his descent upon us should take place after the departure of Christ our Savior. As long as Christ was with them in the flesh, it must have seemed to believers that they possessed every blessing in him; but when the time came for him to ascend to his heavenly Father, it was necessary for him to be united through his Spirit to those who worshiped him, and to dwell in our hearts through faith. Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

It can easily be shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life. Saul was told by the prophet Samuel: The Spirit of the Lord will take possession of you, and you shall be changed into another man. Saint Paul writes: As we behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, that glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit, transforms us all into his own likeness, from one degree of glory to another.

Does this not show that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives? With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage. There can be no doubt that this is what happened to the disciples. The strength they received from the Spirit enabled them to hold firmly to the love of Christ, facing the violence of their persecutors unafraid. Very true, then, was our Savior’s saying that it was to their advantage for him to return to heaven: his return was the time appointed for the descent of the Holy Spirit.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Ancient-Present Faith

As an Evangelical pastor through the early years of the "worship wars" (as contemporary syncretism increasingly became the model for congregational worship), I sought ways to maintain a continuity with the good things in Christian worship that had stood the test of time for centuries.  In the process I finally sensed I was trying to "recreate the wheel" as I spent hours each week building our worship service.  A catalyst for this realization was comprehending something of what Justin Martyr wrote in the mid-second century – not so long after the death of the last of the Twelve – St John.    St Justin Martyr described early Christian worship in the following treatise, and I began to see that Christian worship looked far more Catholic than something in the free-church tradition of Evangelicals (and notice immediately the exclusivity of the Eucharist)....

From the first apology in defense of the Christians by Saint Justin, martyr
(Cap. 66-67: PB 6, 427-431)

The celebration of the eucharist

No one may share the eucharist with us unless he believes that what we teach is true, unless he is washed in the regenerating waters of baptism for the remission of his sins, and unless he lives in accordance with the principles given us by Christ.

We do not consume the eucharistic bread and wine as if it were ordinary food and drink, for we have been taught that as Jesus Christ our Savior became a man of flesh and blood by the power of the Word of God, so also the food that our flesh and blood assimilates for its nourishment becomes the flesh and blood of the incarnate Jesus by the power of his own words contained in the prayer of thanksgiving.

The apostles, in their recollections, which are called gospels, handed down to us what Jesus commanded them to do. They tell us that he took bread, gave thanks and said: Do this in memory of me. This is my body. In the same way he took the cup, he gave thanks and said: This is my blood. The Lord gave this command to them alone. Ever since then we have constantly reminded one another of these things. The rich among us help the poor and we are always united. For all that we receive we praise the Creator of the universe through his Son Jesus Christ and through the Holy Spirit.

On Sunday we have a common assembly of all our members, whether they live in the city or the outlying districts. The recollections of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as there is time. When the reader has finished, the president of the assembly speaks to us; he urges everyone to imitate the examples of virtue we have heard in the readings. Then we all stand up together and pray.

On the conclusion of our prayer, bread and wine and water are brought forward. The president offers prayers and gives thanks to the best of his ability, and the people give assent by saying, “Amen.” The eucharist is distributed, everyone present communicates, and the deacons take it to those who are absent.

The wealthy, if they wish, may make a contribution, and they themselves decide the amount. The collection is placed in the custody of the president, who uses it to help the orphans and widows and all who for any reason are in distress, whether because they are sick, in prison, or away from home. In a word, he takes care of all who are in need.

We hold our common assembly on Sunday because it is the first day of the week, the day on which God put darkness and chaos to flight and created the world, and because on that same day our savior Jesus Christ rose from the dead. For he was crucified on Friday and on Sunday he appeared to his apostles and disciples and taught them the things that we have passed on for your consideration.

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