Thursday, March 1, 2018

Don't Give up the Fight

I was up a good bit of the night, upset, and thinking (among other distressing matters) about my friend Fr. Brian Waldbillig who committed suicide.

I try to quiet myself inside when this happens, and listen to God, and this is what I heard. We live in a world filled with hate, that is trying to destroy itself. It is a world that tries to convince us to hate ourselves, that we are worthless, that we have no place, and that we just ought to do away with ourselves. Remember that each of us is here because God wants us to be here, that each of us is precious beyond price in His sight. None of us is perfect, because none of us is finished --- and we are all created good.

 We are here because God has some work, some very important work for us to do, and even though it looks dark and hopeless sometimes, He will give us the means to do it. Don't give in to the message of self-hatred. We exist because we are loved.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Forgiveness Tuesday

Today is Shrove Tuesday. Shrove is a noun that comes from the verb "to shrive" that is, to give absolution. So it means absolution or forgiveness. We might call this "Forgiveness Tuesday."

So, if I have sinned against any of you, or caused you offense, I am heartily sorry, and ask your forgiveness.

Self- Examination according to the Ten Commandments, and an Apology

I must first of all apologize.  I have mislaid my sermon notes while getting my books and papers organized. (I preach many of my sermons from a written text, not printed from the computer.) I am sure of finding them eventually, but in the meantime I have been unable to get them up as promised.  However, in preparation for Lent, I am posting an examination of conscience based on the 10 commandments. 

Examination of Conscience based on the 10 Commandments.

Following the best analysis of the Biblical text, I take the first five commandments as referring to our duty to God, and the later five as referring to duty to neighbor.  All of the commandments are based on the love of God, who is Himself Love, and who created and sustains us out of His Love.  From this proceeds our love of neighbor, of the people we meet and with whom we deal. I have tried to stick to a strict interpretation of these commandments as found in Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, except that, where applicable,  I have looked at their application in the Book of Common Prayer.

1. "God spake these words, and said; I am the Lord thy God: Thou shalt have none other gods but me."

Sins of false worship
-Have I loved God with all my heart, mind, soul and strength, and longed to please Him?
-Have I grieved to offend God by my sins?
-Have I put anything in the place of God?
-Have I made it the whole purpose of life to serve God who has loved me?
-Have I put any person in the place of God in my life?
-Have I allowed my love of earthly pleasures or attachments to take the place of God?
-Have I let me pride or self-righteousness lead me away from God?

2. "Thou shalt not make to thyself any graven image, nor the likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down to them, nor worship them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, and visit the sins of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me, and shew mercy unto thousands in them that love me, and keep my commandments."

Sins of idolatry
-Have I created anything, my work, my projects, my ideas or concepts, and put them in place of God?
-Have I allowed others' works or projects to take the place of God in my life?
-Have I allowed my pride in my own works, achievements, or qualities to lead me from God?
-Have I preferred my own opinions to an honest search for truth?  Have I despised or thought of no importance the pursuit of truth?
-Have I despised beauty or the cultivation of beauty?
-Have I looked down on others for pursuing goodness, truth, or beauty?
-Have I put pragmatism above moral principle or the laws of God?
-Have I engaged in superstition, sorcery, or divination?
-Have I engaged in pagan or other forms of false or non-Christian worship?

3. "Thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless, that taketh his Name in vain."

Sins of Blasphemy
-Have I been respectful of God's name and the words referring to Him and not misused it, either by deliberately misusing them or employing them frivolously?
-Have I treated His commandments and his Word with respect?
-Have I claimed to act in God's name in a way not authorized by Him, or in a way contrary to his commandments?
-Have I despised God's commandments, or reckoned them as nought or not binding on me?
-Have I sworn a false oath in God's name, or made frivolous or unnecessary oaths?
-Have I striven to keep the vows I have made before God with all my power?
-Have I treated Scripture with respect and reverence?
-Have I made it my business to study Scripture and seek to know God's commandments and will for me revealed therein?
-Have I claimed to speak in God's name when I was merely giving my own opinion, or have I failed to speak in God's name when it was my duty to do so?

4. "Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath-day. Six days shalt thou labour, and do all that thou hast to do; but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God. In it thou shalt do no manner of work, thou, and thy son, and thy daughter, thy man-servant, and thy maid-servant, thy cattle, and the stranger that is within thy gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and ail that in them is, and rested the seventh day: wherefore the Lord blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it."

Sins of Sacrilege
-Have I kept the Lord's day and other days set aside for the worship of God, by attending public worship, by abstaining from labor, by not engaging in commercial activity, such as buying and selling or gainful employment, or by unnecessary household work?
-Have I set aside regular times from prayer, daily at least, and for reading of  Scripture and other spiritual writings?
-Have I set aside time to spend quietly to listen to God?
-Have I treated the church building with respect as set aside for God and our encounter with him, including by keeping silence in church, by acts of reverence and respect, and by not engaging in secular activity therein?
-Have I treated the sacraments and rites of the church with respect and reverence, as befits the things of God?
-Have I received Holy Communion regularly (3X per year minimum for Anglicans) and prepared for it by examining my conscience, confessing my sins, and receiving absolution, seeking a priest for private confession when needed (as foreseen in the Exhortation)?  Have I prepared for Holy Communion, by, for example, such disciplines as fasting beforehand, and spending time in prayer and recollection before receiving it?
-Have I, according to my health and circumstances, observed the feasts, fasts, and days of special devotion set forth by the Church?
-Have I cultivated an interior attitude of worship and attention while attending worship?
-Have I been respectful towards sacred things, especially those set aside for the worship of God?
-Have I despised or disparaged others for their reverence or attitude of worship, for their faith, or otherwise disturbed them or tried to hinder them from cultivating an attitude of prayer or worship, especially in church?
-Have I contributed to the worship of God,  according to my ability, by offering my talents for worship (such as singing in choir, being an usher, etc.), and by giving of my wealth for the worship of God and the beautification of the church.

5. "Honour thy father and thy mother; that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee."

Sins of Dishonor
-Have I been respectful of my parents, through whom God gave me life, and nurtured me, and whose duty it is to teach me about God and His commandments?
-Have I been respectful of other persons, especially of the clergy and other spiritual elders, and of my teachers, whose duty it is to teach me of God and His commandments, and nurture me in the faith?
-Have I treated them with disrespect, or have I disparaged them to others?
-Have I honored the Traditions and teaching of the faith as they have been passed down to me, seeking to cultivate them, to restore them when they have decayed, and to pass them on, or have I worked to undermine them and to cause others to treat them with disrespect?
-Have I sought, by word and example of life, to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
-Have I treated the civil authorities charged with ministration of justice with respect, and have I followed their just laws?

6. Thou shalt do no murder.

Sins of Murder and Harm to Persons
-Have I loved my neighbor as God loves me?
-Have I taken, or conspired in any way to take the life of any other human being, or to undermine the law of God against doing so? (Self-defense, capital punishment in accordance with the law, and the killing of an enemy by a lawful combatant in time of war are not sins of murder.)
-Have I spoken ill of any one by calumny (saying untruths), detraction (saying hurtful truths that do not need to be said), or gossip?
-Have I denied to others for whom I have a responsibility (for example, my employees) livelihood for themselves and their dependents?
-Have I harbored anger, a desire for revenge, or a desire to hurt others?
-Have I given of my time and wealth for the poor, the sick, and others in need?
-Have I treated all persons with courtesy and respect?
-Have I taken proper care of my own health, or do I do things, especially habitually, that harm my health?

7. "Thou shalt not commit adultery."

Sins against Marriage and Children
-Have I engaged in adultery: sexual intercourse between a married person and a person other than his or her spouse?
-Have I engaged in fornication (porneia): sexual intercourse other than the marital act?
-Have I engaged in behavior which might lead to these things?
-Have I stirred up illicit desire (for instance, by watching the portrayal of these things and deliberately taking pleasure therein)?
-Have I done other things to undermine the security of my family or that of others, or the welfare of children in their families?

8. "Thou shalt not steal."

Sins of Theft
-Have I taken the property of someone else that did not belong to me?
-Have I damaged someone else's property?

9. "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour."

Sins of Lying
-Have I committed perjury?
-Have I lied about someone deliberately?
-Have I been careful to speak the truth?
-Have I kept my ordinary promises?

10. "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his servant, nor his maid, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is his."

Sins of Covetousness
-Have I entertained the desire to do any of the above sins?
-Have I desired that, property or persons, which was not proper for me?
-Have I wished to deprive others of the good things that belong to them, or wished others ill because they had good things which I did not?

Finally, If I have sinned against God or anyone, have I confessed my sin, to God in every case, and to the other persons offended if the sin was public or could be known to them?  Have I sought forgiveness and made restitution for my sins?

Monday, January 29, 2018

A Short Explanation of Septuagesima

Sunday, Jan 28 this year is Septuagesima Sunday, according to the Anglican formularies. Traditionally the Western Church begins Genesis today, and the beginning of Genesis is still the lesson in the BCP of the Church of England. We likewise are to make a new beginning, and we do this by taking the next two weeks to examine our lives over the past year, in preparation for our annual Confession on Shrove Tuesday. The Gospel is about the workers in the vineyard, and we likewise are to consider what penance, self-denial. and acts of charity will be our Lenten work. And to remind us that our penance is a cheerful work, we still have two and a half weeks of carnival before Ash Wednesday, when we finish up all the meat, eggs, fish and dairy products in our house, in preparation for the Lenten fast and abstinence.

The Parable of the Vineyard
The term Septuagesima (and Sexagesima and Quinquagesima) come from the Latin "Dominica in Septuagesima" or "Sunday within the 70th [day before Easter]".  Quinquagesima actually is the 50th day before Easter, as Roman ordinal numbers count inclusively.  These terms may have been coined by analogy with "Quadragesima" or fortieth, referring to the days within the 40th day [of fasting] before Easter.  I know this sounds funny in English, but it is based on a Latin idiom that made perfect sense when it was coined, just as many of our idioms make perfect sense to us, but no doubt sound funny to the non-native English speaker

The season of Septuagesima only makes sense when we put it in the larger context of the Lenten observance.  During the season of Septuagesima, or Pre-Lent, we examine our lives, repent of our sins, and and look for what corrective measures we need to take to heal the wounds of sin and make reparation for them, in addition to those measures generally recommended by the Tradition of the Church and our particular ecclesial tradition.  This time is most necessary if we are to spend a profitable Lent.  The Western Tradition provides us with liturgical propers that help us do that, and also give us signs of hope in God's providence in Christ, looking forward to the celebration of his great work of redemption during Holy Week and the Triduum.  If your local church does not keep these Sundays, I recommend reading the propers, including the readings from Genesis, as appointed in the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, available online.

Then on Shrove Tuesday, or sometime close before Lent, we bring our sins to God, and ask his forgiveness.  On Ash Wednesday, the penance for our sins is undertaken, and this is witnessed by our receiving ashes.  For those who have not examined their conscience, asked forgiveness, and undertaken penance, this sign (or sacramental) makes no sense.  This is why it should not be given to, or received by, those who have not done these things.

Then, during the forty days of Lent, we practice our penance.  This is not something that we can do on our own, but is only possible as we let the Holy Spirit work in us.  It is thus never an occasion of pride or of self-satisfaction.  The goal of this is, by a willing coöperation with the grace of God working in us, that we may be so purified from sin, as to be prepared to receive our risen Lord and  celebrate Easter with the joy appropriate to the feast.

I will be publishing a revised version of my sermons on the Ten Commandments during this Pre-Lenten season to assist folks with their self examination.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Why we Venerate St. William Laud, Archbishop and Martyr

William Laud about to be executed.

On this day in 1645, William Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury, was martyred, murdered by the Puritans for his defense of Anglicanism, and in particular his defense of, and insistence on valid orders and sacraments, and for the sacred, for the beautiful, and for worship. 

For what, in particular, was he martyred?  First was his defense of episcopacy, and thus of valid orders and sacraments, which the Puritans wished to and did abolish when they got control.  Second was the attempt to have a basic level of reverence and beauty in the churches after the so much destruction done in the name of reformation.

And what exactly did that mean?

-It meant an insistence on clerical garb, either the cassock, or a clerical "coat" for travelling (when the cassock might be soiled).

-It meant celebrating the required services of the Book of Common Prayer, Morning and Evening Prayer daily in the church, the Litany on Wednesdays and Fridays, and the Holy Communion (or at least Ante-Communion) on all Major holy Days, all as required by the book to which had subscribed at ordination.  This included keeping the Major Holy Days.

-The words used in service are to be those of the Book of Common Prayer (no changing the words of the service).

-It meant only those preaching who were licensed thereto.

-It meant the use of the surplice as a bare minimum vestment at the time of divine service, i.e., Morning and Evening Prayer, Litany and Holy Communion.

-The Holy Table (altar) was to be kept in the East end of the church, behind altar rails.

-Communion is to be received kneeling (except, of course, by those who are infirm and unable to do do).

-A cross and candlesticks on the altar.

- a frontal covering the altar to emphasis its sacredness.

It was for these things, and for his stance on valid orders and episcopacy, that the Puritans cut off his head. 

In addition to these, Laud and his followers promoted the celebration of the Eucharist facing the East, the direction from which our Lord was to come.  The other practice (based on one possible interpretation of the Book of Common Prayer) was to stand at the North end, facing South, with the Clerk making the responses at the South End. Even the Puritans did not have the hubris to stand in what all would have considered the place of God, that is, on the East side of the Holy Table, facing West.

It will be noticed that on these, and other matters necessary for maintaining the sacred, for instance the use of a sacral register of language, or the maintenance of reverence towards the Sacrament of our Lords' Body and Blood, we have gradually surrendered.  We have in fact, given up on the very points which defined Anglicanism as against our enemies who wished to destroy us.  Why have we done this?  Why did the Puritans do what they did?

Beginning in the 16th century the West started suffering from socio-psychological pathology, an inability to tolerate religious beauty, or to have any sense of the sacred. It appears that both of these were the result of an inability to deal with Eros, which is the natural movement of the soul toward the beautiful.  Now we in our day tend to reduce Eros to sexual desire, which is part of the problem.  It is also why we have a problem with the sacred, because of the way Eros moves us out of ourselves to something higher, through beauty to wonder and ultimately to worship of that which is ultimately good.

This problem arose because late Middle Ages was terrified of the possibility of sexual sin, and of male homosexuality in particular.  This was especially strong among the clergy and religious (monks, friars, etc.), who were celibate and lived in an all-male environment: it must be remembered that most of the reformers were clergy, and that one of the first thing many of them did was to marry to provide themselves with an "acceptable" sexual outlet.  Because of this excessive fear, they also rejected Eros.  Thus the idea of falling in love with God, to whom we relate to as masculine (that is, in a way analogous to the male), and in whom is found ultimate beauty, was rejected by them.

Because of this a God of love was replaced by a God of power, hence the Calvinist insistence on the sovereignty of God. The cross of Christ, which is in Christian theology the ultimate act of God's love for everyone, becomes instead a forensic trick so that a select few may avoid punishment.  Because they were no longer able healthily to be moved by love and beauty, indeed became afraid of these things, religion and politics became reduced to a matter of power.  The Puritan was seized by the desire for power and control, a power and control first of all to be used to abolish anything beautiful from religion, anything that could motivate Eros.  They used God's sovereignty as an excuse for their own power, smashing and destroying churches, and making others subject to their ideology.  This is why they cut off Abp. Laud's head, projecting on him their own desire for power, and using this projected and false accusation against him.

A love for God, for others, and for the things proper to us, our country, family, home, etc. is something that comes naturally, and which should motivate our common life.  But our pathology substitutes for this love a desire for power, and this pathological substitution  defines politics and religion in our own day, and it has become vastly more widespread since the time of Abp. Laud, affecting every aspect of life.  This is why we Anglicans have gradually given up on the points that Laud defended with his life: We have fallen prey to the very pathology he opposed.

Because of this pathology we cannot fall in love with God.  It is why we cannot grasp the concept of Eros, but must reduce everything to libido.  This is why we have killed off our sense of the sacred.  It is why we have a problem with beauty, and seem increasingly unable to produce beauty in art, in architecture, and to have beauty in the ordinary things of our life.  It is why we cannot have a healthy philosophy and are afraid of the intellectual life, for these things are motivated by a sense of wonder.  It is why we deny the sacredness of our fellow men, women and children, and have commoditized human beings, and exploit them, denying them a just living wage, safe and healthful working conditions, and their God-given dignity.  It is why we know longer acknowledge the sacredness of innocent human life, or of having children, or of motherhood.  It is why we have produced a world of work which is inhumane, deeply unsatisfying, and leaves people lonely and depressed, some even to the pint of taking their own lives.  It is why we no longer acknowledge the sacredness of the earth God made---a place he made for us to encounter Him---but view it as something to be exploited for our own power and pleasure, thus increasingly destroying it for those who come after.  It is because of Puritanism, in it various forms, Jansenism, secularism, and a long list of modern ideologies, that we must define everything in terms of power, setting man against man, in an endless striving for the self-righteousness of victim status as a justification so that we may assuage the pain of our loveless existence by destroying those whom we have defined as our oppressors.  This of course does not remove the source of our pain, but after a short relief only makes it worse, thus leading to a cycle of self destruction.  And if we continue in this way, we shall certainly destroy ourselves.

It was against this Puritanism that William Laud, Archbishop and martyr fought, and in this struggle that he gave up his life.  It is for this reason that we should honor him as a saint before God, who was faithful even to the point of death.  May St. William Laud, Archbishop and martyr, pray for us, and for Christ to deliver us!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Church was fun

I remember growing up that church was fun. We had no youth group, for which I am grateful — my subsequent experience of youth groups tells me that I would and hated it. There were plenty of youth, and everybody else: It was like a big family.  There was Sunday School, which I did not like, and thus did not attend much. Our organist, Camille Smith, was very good, and she was also a good choir director.  It was as a teenager in choir that I really learned to sing. Like Boy Scouts and my grandparents’ house, church was a refuge from my parents’ house, where I was miserable, and from school, where I was bullied, ostracized, and miserable.

I remember all kinds of things, early daily mass before school, the Easter Vigil (where flint and steel were used to start the fire), Midnight Mass at Christmas, and watchnight Mass New Years’ Eve followed by a champagne breakfast and the rest of the night spent playing board games in the parish hall), and going to mass in the evening on Jan. 6 for Epiphany and the occasional evensong and Benediction.

Church felt like home, along with my grandparents’ house, and a kind of foretaste, as I would say now, of being at home in God’s house. And I am especially grateful to Fr. David Nyberg, my priest in High School, for helping to make it so.

Monday, January 8, 2018

What Epiphany Says to me this Year.

Thinking about the meaning of Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ, and looking back at the last 50 years, about as far as my memories reach, it is amazing to me that I have survived some of the truly horrendous things that I have endured in life. I would not have survived without the love of God as shown to me in some key people, four in particular, and without my faith, a Christian faith (of the Anglo-Catholic or theologically High Anglican variety). I know that this faith works, and all else I have found useless, or seriously wanting except as viewed in the light of this faith.

I am not disturbed so much by the lack of belief in the world, where most people have never heard the Gospel, or at best a poor and deficient presentation, if not a counterfeit of it.  But it is deeply disturbing to me to see so many in the churches, including far too many clergy, who do not believe this faith, who have no personal relation with God in Christ, no reverence for the things of God, and no ability to enter into sacred time or space, and seem determined to ruin these things for those of us whose lives have been saved by these things, and others whose lives could be saved by them. Against such people, who in their unbelief and folly would destroy souls, we must remain absolutely firm, and persist, against all opposition, in offering people what Bp. Geoffrey Rowell called the Vision Glorious, the knowledge of the love, and of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

If you need a New Year’s resolution, you can take this one.  And if it seems a daunting task, then remember that those who fight with us who undertake it, namely the whole host of Heaven, are far more than those who fight against us. There is no cause more noble, nor one that brings a greater reward, not just for those who fight, but for those for whom we fight.