Monday, March 31, 2008
(HT to TitusOneNine)
Victim Treats His Mugger Right
Over at GetReligion, tmatt, Mollie, and company are always talking about the religious "ghosts" in news stories, meaning that the story begs a question concerning religion or spirituality that goes unasked or is ignored. Well, there is certainly such a ghost in this one. What's this guy's religious faith? Does he have one? I have to admit: I'm usually not very fond of Social Workers, having worked with several, but I'd like to meet this guy. Amazing stuff, and completely beyond anything that I could see myself doing. Way to go, Dude. Or, maybe better: Way to BE, Dude.
Sunday, March 30, 2008
The Quality of Mercy
Of course, the great sign of God's infinite mercy is the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. In the Byzantine Orthodox Churches, still journeying through Lent, today is the Sunday of the Cross, of which Fr. Stephen writes here.
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Now, I do not know this other young man, nor have I read his blog, so I will not comment on his situation directly (except to gently remind Arturo that he, too, was apparently something of an atheist for a while). However, in reading Arturo’s post, my reaction, after thinking of Anne Rice and other former atheists, such as Francis Collins, Patrick Glyn, Malcolm Muggeridge, and C.S. Lewis, was, in the words of our Lord, “It is easier for a camel [Aramaic: “rope”] to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” Even the most impoverished of us here in the West, and I include myself in that category, are “rich” by historical and global standards. A modern lifestyle is one of affluence. Given that, everything else being equal (which, as Arturo’s writing points out, is far from the case), modernity is, in and of itself, corrosive of religion. However, there is another kind of wealth which is only indirectly related to one’s socioeconomic status and which is even more corrosive of spirituality. That “wealth,” of course, can be described in many ways, but fundamentally, it is the opposite of the “poverty of spirit” of which our Lord speaks in the Gospel. It is this poverty of spirit, born of a radical realization of one’s limitations, weaknesses, shortcomings, and sins, which opens us to the encounter with the Risen Christ at the core of our being – in the heart. As one of the commenters on Arturo’s post points out, the main issue is whether or not Christ lives in me. The rest of it, worship style, etc., is simply a means to an end.
Now don’t get me wrong, y’all. I remain convinced that the Church is the privileged place, established by Christ Himself, in which this encounter is to take place. It is the exterior, social space given for the precise purpose of facilitating this interior, interpersonal communion. Ecclesiology as such is not the issue here. However, as so many discovered in the Roman Church in the years prior to Vatican II, one can go through all the motions and yet never meet the Resurrected Lord, at least not in the Holy of Holies of one’s heart. This phenomenon goes a long way toward explaining the rise of Charismatic Renewal in the Roman and other “mainstream” Western Churches. However, when that encounter, that “spiritual awakening”, has occurred, one does not easily, if at all, walk away, regardless of the external circumstances of one’s life.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
"On the afternoon in 1998 when faith returned, I experienced a sense of the limitless power and majesty of God that left me convinced that He knew all the answers to the theological and sociological questions that had tormented me for years. I saw, in one enduring moment, that the God who could make the Double Helix and the snow flake, the God who could make the Black holes in space, and the lilies of the field, could do absolutely anything and must know everything --- even why good people suffer, why genocide and war plague our planet, and why Christians have lost, in America and in other lands, so much credibility as people who know how to love. I felt a trust in this all-knowing God; I felt a sudden release of all my doubts. Indeed, my questions became petty in the face of the greatness I beheld. I felt a deep and irreversible assurance that God knew and understood every single moment of every life that had ever been lived, or would be lived on Earth. I saw the universe as an immense and intricate tapestry, and I perceived that the Maker of the tapestry saw interwoven in that tapestry all our experiences in a way that we could not hope, on this Earth, to understand.
'This was not a joyful moment for me. It wasn’t an easy moment. It was an admission that I loved and believed in God, and that my old atheism was a façade. I knew it was going to be difficult to return to the Maker, to give over my life to Him, and become a member of a huge quarreling religion that had broken into many denominations and factions and cults worldwide. But I knew that the Lord was going to help me with this return to Him. I trusted that He would help me. And that trust is what under girds my faith to this day. "
"My trust is in the Lord"
While I have never been an atheist, I too had a moment similar to this some years ago. I had been looking for an intellectual key to unlock the relevance of Christ, of Christianity. What I found, instead, was that Christ is the key which unlocks everything else.
The Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom
If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let him enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
If anyone is a wise servant, let him, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
If anyone has wearied himself in fasting, let him now receive his recompense.
If anyone has labored from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let him keep the feast. If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; for he shall suffer no loss. If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near without hesitation. If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let him not fear on account of his delay. For the Master is gracious and receives the last, even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour, just as to him who has labored from the first. He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious. He both honors the work and praises the intention.
Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward. O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy! O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day! You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today! The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you! The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
Let no one lament his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn his transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Saviour's death has set us free.
He that was taken by death has annihilated it! He descended into hades and took hades captive! He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed, "Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions." It was embittered, for it was abolished! It was embittered, for it was mocked! It was embittered, for it was purged! It was embittered, for it was despoiled! It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
It took a body and, face to face, met God! It took earth and encountered heaven! It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
"O death, where is thy sting? O hades, where is thy victory?"
Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is risen, and life reigns!
Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the First-fruits of them that slept.
To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.
Saturday, March 22, 2008
In the meantime, OCA priest Fr. Stephen Freeman has been posting material relevant to Holy Week and the Paschal triduum, even though the Byzantine Orthodox Churches have only recently begun Lent and will not celebrate Pascha this year until April 27. Thank you, Father. I will try to return the favor when the time comes. Here is Fr. Stephen's post for those of us who observe Holy Saturday - the Sabbath of sabbaths - today:
He burst the yawning gates of hell
Friday, March 14, 2008
The Assyrians, an ancient ethnic group going back to biblical times, are predominantly Christian, being divided between the Syriac Orthodox Church (in whose tradition my own Church is rooted), the Assyrian Church of the East, the Chaldean Catholic Church, and several smaller Protestant groups. Since the rise of Islam, they have had a precarious existence, but perhaps never more so than now. It is estimated that 40% of those fleeing Iraq at this time are Assyrian Christians, even though they make up less than five percent of the Iraqi population. So let us read about them, pray for them, and, if so led, contact our government to advocate for them. It would seem entirely clear that U.S. policy in Iraq must take into account the wellbeing of the Assyrian people.
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Kidnapped Iraq cleric found dead and al Qaeda blamed
Pope Mourns Death of Kidnapped Iraqi Prelate
"Holy New Martyrs of Iraq, pray for us. Pray that justice, peace, and freedom may prevail throughout the world, and especially in your homeland."
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
Good morning. Thank you, Fr. Tom. For those who don’t know me, I’m Gregory Ned Blevins, and I’m a priest of an Independent Syriac Orthodox Christian Church. I’m also married to Larkin Ryan’s mother, Susan, so Glen and I shared a daughter, and he was my friend. As you might imagine, I feel a little awkward standing before you today, but Richard, Ryan, and Myra prevailed upon me to say a few words concerning Glen, and I’m pretty sure that he would appreciate the irony of the situation.
First, on behalf of all the family, I want to thank Fr. Tom, the organist, the cantor, the reader, the servers and everyone here at Nativity as well as Jimmy McAllister and his entire staff for all their hard work. I also want to thank all of you for coming today to remember Glen, support his family, and to pray for his repose. I would also be remiss if I did not acknowledge that 17 years ago, almost to the day, we buried Glen’s older brother, Chuck, and Ryan and Cary’s maternal grandmother, Clelia Allen, who both died on March 6, 1991.
I have known Glen now for over 25 years. During that time, there were many ups and downs, as there are in all of our lives. However, he was always devoted to his children and their friends. He welcomed my daughter, Cary, into his life in many ways as if she were his own and he called her his “special daughter”, as we found out last night. He was very proud of you, Richard, and I know that your mother, Annette, is as well, along with your grandmother and all of your aunts. He told everyone about his children. He loved to expand his circle and yours. People who met for the first time last night felt as if they had known each other all of their lives because of the good things they had heard about each other from Glen.
He had many friends, both at work and elsewhere. It may seem trite, but Glen truly never met a stranger, and he always had an uncanny ability to make you laugh.
Until he could no longer do so because of his health, Glen spent his career as a technician for the phone company. Because his job required him to do so, he stayed in Charleston during Hurricane Hugo, back in 1989. We spoke with him on the phone from Spartanburg at the height of the storm. Although he retired as a supervisor, he supported his union, the Communications Workers of America, and had served as a union steward. He was also a member of the Pioneers.
Though Glen’s relationship with his Church was complicated due to his marital situation, he always thought of himself as Roman Catholic. Myra says that, recently, Glen had been teaching her about the Catholic understanding of the role of the Blessed Virgin in our lives. He was old school when it came to the Church. He would have preferred, for example, that the Mass was still in Latin, at least sometimes. It seems that Pope Benedict agrees.
Glen was a spiritual person. He found a relationship with his Higher Power, the God of his understanding, in the rooms and program of a 12-Step fellowship, and it was there that he met Myra. He took me to my first 12-Step meeting and many of my own memories of Glen revolve around attending meetings with him. I remember that when a group of us would go to Shoney’s after a meeting, Ryan, who was then a child, often came along. One summer night at a Shoney’s restaurant, Glen, myself and several other men loudly sang “Silent Night” because we felt that our fellow patrons needed some entertainment. You can ask Ryan about this later.
On Tuesday, only hours before Glen’s death, Ryan and her boyfriend Richie drove down from Columbia to pick up some furniture from Glen, Myra, and Myra’s parents, the Petersons. Although he was worried about his scheduled back surgery, Glen was in an upbeat mood and they had fun together. Glen took great pleasure in beating Richie at ping pong. Ryan is very grateful for this last day that she and her father had together.
Richard says that in the past few years, he and his father had become more than father and son, that they were able to become friends, and he is grateful for that. He was able to hang out with his children, and they got to know him as a person as they never had before.
Myra will cherish memories of Glen’s extraordinary consideration and affection for her. She says that whenever she would show Glen something in a catalogue, he would actually pay attention. Sometimes, a few days later it would show up via UPS.
Therefore, let us remember that Glen had a good heart and sincerely and deeply cared about the people in his life, and let us commit him into the hands of a loving God. We perhaps have wondered why Glen was allowed to die in such a way, at this time of his life, as a relatively young man. We don’t know. We cannot know. But as we have heard in the Gospel reading, and as Fr. Tom has said so well, we do know that our God, having been made human, died under some pretty lousy circumstances himself, and is there for us: and He is there for Glen. I have been awestruck over the years as I have observed the grace of God working in each chapter of Glen’s life. I saw God at work last night at the wake.
Finally, because he loved the Latin liturgy and related to the Blessed Virgin Mary, I would like to offer the prayer “Hail Holy Queen” in Latin:
Salve Regina, Mater misericordiae.
Vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Evae.
Ad te Suspiramus,
Gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia ergo, Advocata nostra,
Illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte.
Et Iesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui,
Nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, o pia, o dulcis Virgo Maria.
Ora pro nobis, Sancta Dei Genitrix.
Ut digni efficiamur promissionibus Christi.
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy!
Our life, our sweetness, and our hope!
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve,
To thee do we send up our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus;
O clement, O loving, O sweet virgin Mary.
Pray for us, O holy Mother of God
That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.
In nomine Patris, et Filii+, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen
Sunday, March 9, 2008
As Lent begins for Byzantine Orthodox Christians, OCA priest Fr. Stephen writes more about forgiveness and the fact that fundamentally, real forgiveness is not rooted in the legal concepts of guilt and innocence.
To Care of the Heart
Friday, March 7, 2008
Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, Martyrs
At the heart of their story is the testimony of St. Felicity as she gave birth in prison:
Charles Williams was of the opinion that in saying this, Felicity was found to have been placed in the ranks of the Doctors of the Church.
"But respecting Felicity... when she had already gone eight months with child (for she had been pregnant when she was apprehended), as the day of the exhibition was drawing near, she was in great grief lest on account of her pregnancy she should be delayed,—because pregnant women are not allowed to be publicly punished,—and lest she should shed her sacred and guiltless blood among some who had been wicked subsequently. Moreover, also, her fellow-martyrs were painfully saddened lest they should leave so excellent a friend, and as it were companion, alone in the path of the same hope. Therefore, joining together their united cry, they poured forth their prayer to the Lord three days before the exhibition. Immediately after their prayer her pains came upon her, and when, with the difficulty natural to an eight months' delivery, in the labour of bringing forth she was sorrowing, [a guard] said to her, 'You who are in such suffering now, what will you do when you are thrown to the beasts, which you despised when you refused to sacrifice?'
And she replied, 'Now it is I that suffer what I suffer; but then there will be another in me, who will suffer for me, because I also am about to suffer for Him.'
Thus she brought forth a little girl, which a certain sister brought up as her daughter." (5:2)
"Holy Martyrs of Carthage, Perpetua, Felicity, and Companions, pray to God for us that our souls may be saved."
Thursday, March 6, 2008
Forgiveness and the Kingdom
As always, Fr. Stephen here is well worth reading, especially with regard to the healing effects of forgiveness.
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
Man killed in hit and run accident
I ask your prayers for the repose of Glen and for his widow, Myra, as well as for his/my daughter, Larkin, and his son Richard. Remember also, please, his mother Mildred as well as my wife Susan and our daughter Cary, with whom he was close. He will be buried from a parish of the Roman Catholic Church.
Requiem in Pacem.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Ephesians 4: 17-25. (v. 25) “Therefore, putting away falsehood, let every one speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”
Psalm 41:1-4, 11-13. (v. 4) “As for me, I said, 'O LORD, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against thee!"
Mark 2:1-12,15-17. (v. 17) "And…Jesus…said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."
The following is a revised and extended version of the homily I gave today
“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
So says our Lord.
Surely He speaks ironically. “There is none righteous, no not one,” writes the prophet. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” we read in St. Paul. And we, from our own experience, know that we ourselves, and humanity in general, are fundamentally flawed. So he comes for sinners, for us all, but to what end? In today’s gospel, and on every page of Scripture, we find the answer: the Lord comes to heal and to forgive.
Before discussing the gospel further, let us look for a moment at the reading from the Letter to the Church at Ephesus. Prior to this passage, Paul has been discussing what Christ has done in triumphing over the enemies of humanity and thereby forming the Church, the members of which are organically united with Christ. Because they - we - are found “in Christ,” we are also “members one of another”. Therefore, we are called to live the Christ-life, “putting to death the deeds of the flesh,” not only for our own good, but for the good of the Church as a whole. This organic union, this communion, means that my spiritual wellbeing, or lack thereof, affects the whole of the Church, as does yours. I either build you up or I tear you down, and vice-versa. We are all in this together.
So I must be concerned for your wellbeing and you for mine on all levels of each other’s existence. In Scripture, “health” or “wholeness” is used frequently to speak of well-being, regardless of whether we are referring to spiritual or physical well-being. Indeed, the basic meaning of “salvation” is “healing”. But our Lord’s greatest concern is always for our spiritual well-being because it, and it alone, is “the one thing needed”.
In the Letter of James, we read of the anointing of the sick. Clearly, many persons have been physically healed through the reception of this Holy Mystery. However, James ends his discussion of this sacrament by saying, “And if he [the recipient of the anointing], has committed sins, they will be forgiven him.” Therefore, when confronted with the paralytic, the Lord deals with the most basic issue first. He forgives the man. He heals him spiritually. Then, the Lord heals the man physically, not only to demonstrate his authority to forgive, but also to meet the man’s presenting need.
Perhaps we seek physical healing from the Lord, or some other thing that is not directly spiritual. Have we first sought spiritual healing? Is there some issue that stands between us and the Lord? “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you,” he says.
Note well that in healing the paralyzed man, Jesus responds, not to the faith of the man himself, but to the faith of the men who placed the sick man before Him. They, confident that Jesus both could and would heal the paralyzed man, did for him what he could not do for himself. They brought the man to Jesus. Their active faith benefited another. We too are called to bring each other to Jesus, to encourage each other in faith.
Throughout this season of Lent, we have heard various gospel accounts of healing and forgiveness coming from the source of all healing and forgiveness: the one and only God. We have also heard readings from the letters of St. Paul in which are discussed, as in Romans 7, the corrupting and compelling power of sin in human lives untouched by the power of Christ, as well as what it means to be in Christ. Paul writes in II Corinthians: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. All things have become new.” It is from this newness of life, given us because we are in Christ, that we are called to live, both for our own good and for the good of all humanity, and ultimately, the good of all creation. In this season of Lent, we are called to renew our openness to that life, to seek deeper communion with Christ and thereby, with each other.
Lent, as we all know, is the season of preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s death and resurrection. It is a season of repentance, of turning away from the world, the flesh, and the devil, and of turning toward the Lord. It is rooted also in the preparation of catechumens to be baptized into the Church at Pascha, along with the reconciliation of penitents, occurring also at Pascha. Thus, the Church as a whole repents in solidarity, in communion, with those who are entering into the new life of Christ or who have publically fallen short.
So let us then pursue our Lenten disciplines of prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, not only for ourselves, but for each other, for the whole Church, and for the whole world. Let us pray for those who have left us. For we are, truly, members one of another and we are called to live accordingly, building each other up, to to the glory of the Almighty Father, together with our Lord Jesus Christ+, His only eternal Word and Son, and the all-Holy, good, and life-giving Spirit, One God in both worlds and unto the Aeon of aeons. Amen.
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Chaldean Bishop kidnapped, Bodyguards killed
"At the Mercy of Terror"
"Holy New Martyrs of Iraq, pray for us and for justice and peace in the world, especially your homeland!"