Monday, March 25, 2019

Let's not be predictable

Conversations on Faith: The Rev. Tim Safford

The Feast of the Annunciation

Let us celebrate the sacred conversation between our Blessed Mary and the Angel Gabriel. The exchange is wondrous and speaks of God's love. Life. Not only in Galilee but a divine life for each one of us.

“The Lord is with you.”
“Don’t be afraid?”
“How can it be?”
“Let it be according to your word.”

The word is now real:

“And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.”

The Holy Spirit surrounded her, and our Lord entered the world for the first time. Jesus is in the womb of Mary. Nothing, nothing, will ever be the same. This should take our breath away.

Nothing is impossible with God. We are forever changed.

(This drawing relates to Dante Rossetti’s oil painting Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation) in Tate’s collection, illustrating the biblical scene in which the Angel Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary. Rossetti shows the young woman facing the viewer, revealing her wonder and alarm at the angel’s visitation. The figure of Mary was modelled by poet Christina Rossetti, the artist’s sister.)

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Feast of St. Joseph. Beautiful St. Joseph

Let us rejoice in St. Joseph. We joyfully sing of our Blessed Mother Mary and her poetic yes. Yet, we often forget the silent and active yes of Joseph. Joseph’s sacred and eternal response to God’s invitation should move the core of our being.

Joseph arose from the dream and from that day forward, his life was an affirmative response to God’s holy calling. He walked boldly toward Mary, and those footsteps changed the world. Imagine his fear when he said yes, knowing that he would be ridiculed for taking this woman with a child. His anxiety and care for his expectant wife as they traveled to Bethlehem. The wonder at the angels singing and listening to the visitors from the East. Josephs heart pounding as they make the desperate escape to Egypt. Each step a holy response to God’s plan.

Joseph was human and real. Imagine the joy when he lifted a young Jesus upon his shoulders as they walked to the market. The joyful play between the two of them before bed. The direction and loving discipline when Jesus misbehaved. The tears as they said goodbye upon Joseph’s deathbed.

Jesus looked up to this loving man as a father. Jesus spent hours watching Joseph work and learned his craft. Part of the goodness, compassion, personality, speech, and maybe even his gait was from being close to Joseph, the earthly parent. Joseph, dear Joseph, thank you for caring for Jesus. You prepared him well as he stepped out into the world as our salvation. I bow my head in admiration and reverence for your life, your faith and your holy yes.

Image by Morgan Weistling

Saturday, February 23, 2019

St. Polycarp. My namesake.

Today we celebrate St. Polycarp.  My favorites saint and my namesake.  

Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, disciple of Saint John the Apostle and friend of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, was a revered Christian leader during the first half of the second century.  Saint Irenaeus mentions Polycarp’s relationship with the Apostle John, noting that Polycarp, who knew John, was his own teacher and mentor.

Growing up among the Greek-speaking Christians of the Roman Empire, Polycarp received the teachings and recollections of individuals who had seen and known Jesus during his earthly life. This important connection – between Jesus' first disciples and apostles and their respective students – served to protect the Church against the influence of heresy during its earliest days, particularly against early attempts to deny Jesus' bodily incarnation and full humanity.

Irenaeus, wrote that Polycarp "was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ; but he was also, by apostles, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna." In a surviving letter that he wrote to the Philippians, he reminded that Church – which had also received the teaching of St. Paul – not to surrender their faith to the "gnostic" teachers claiming to teach a more intellectually refined gospel.

Polycarp was denounced to the government, arrested, and tried on the charge of being a ChristianAt 86, Polycarp was led into the crowded Smyrna stadium to be burned alive.
When the Roman Magistrate urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, and place a pinch of incense in a brazier burning before a statue of Caesar. Polycarp replied: "Eighty-six years I have served Christ, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and Savior?" 

Polycarp was sentenced to be burned alive. Before the crowd, the Roman proconsul demanded again that he worship the emperor. "Hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian," the bishop said. "And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them."

As he waited for the fire to be lighted, he prayed:

“Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in your presence:  I bless you that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.  Among them may I be accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.

The fire was then lit  The flames did not harm him.   Losing patience, they ordered him to be stabbed to death. From the resulting wound, "there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished.” The centurion ordered the saint’s body burned. The “Acts” of Polycarp’s martyrdom are the earliest preserved, fully reliable account of a Christian martyr’s death. He died in 155.

Saint Polycarp reminds us of a truth that takes us beyond our own experience and brings us face to face with the Lord’s stinging words: “No slave is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…”

May Saint Polycarp intercede for us and give us the strength and courage to bear witness to the faith in the face of opposition and persecution.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

The Story of the Conversion of Saint Paul

Saint Paul’s entire life can be explained in terms of one experience—his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus. In an instant, he saw that all the zeal of his dynamic personality was being wasted, like the strength of a boxer swinging wildly. Perhaps he had never seen Jesus, who was only a few years older. But he had acquired a zealot’s hatred of all Jesus stood for, as he began to harass the Church: “…entering house after house and dragging out men and women, he handed them over for imprisonment” (Acts 8:3b). Now he himself was “entered,” possessed, all his energy harnessed to one goal—being a slave of Christ in the ministry of reconciliation, an instrument to help others experience the one Savior.

One sentence determined his theology: “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:5b). Jesus was mysteriously identified with people—the loving group of people Saul had been running down like criminals. Jesus, he saw, was the mysterious fulfillment of all he had been blindly pursuing.

From then on, his only work was to “present everyone perfect in Christ. For this I labor and struggle, in accord with the exercise of his power working within me” (Colossians 1:28b-29). “For our gospel did not come to you in word alone, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and [with] much conviction” (1 Thessalonians 1:5a).

Paul’s life became a tireless proclaiming and living out of the message of the cross: Christians die baptismally to sin and are buried with Christ; they are dead to all that is sinful and unredeemed in the world. They are made into a new creation, already sharing Christ’s victory and someday to rise from the dead like him. Through this risen Christ the Father pours out the Spirit on them, making them completely new.

So Paul’s great message to the world was: You are saved entirely by God, not by anything you can do. Saving faith is the gift of total, free, personal and loving commitment to Christ.

Franciscan Press.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

St. Vincent of Saragossa

The Feast of Saint Vincent of Saragossa

Most of what we know about this saint comes from the poet Prudentius. His Acts have been rather freely colored by the imagination of their compiler. But Saint Augustine, in one of his sermons on Saint Vincent, speaks of having the Acts of his martyrdom before him. We are at least sure of his name, his being a deacon, the place of his death and burial.

According to the story we have, the unusual devotion he inspired must have had a basis in a very heroic life. Vincent was ordained deacon by his friend Saint Valerius of Zaragossa in Spain. The Roman emperors had published their edicts against the clergy in 303, and the following year against the laity. Vincent and his bishop were imprisoned in Valencia. Hunger and torture failed to break them. Like the youths in the fiery furnace, they seemed to thrive on suffering.

Valerius was sent into exile, and Dacian, the Roman governor, now turned the full force of his fury on Vincent. Tortures that sound very modern were tried. But their main effect was the progressive disintegration of Dacian himself. He had the torturers beaten because they failed.

Finally he suggested a compromise: Would Vincent at least give up the sacred books to be burned according to the emperor’s edict? He would not. Torture on the gridiron continued, the prisoner remaining courageous, the torturer losing control of himself. Vincent was thrown into a filthy prison cell—and converted the jailer. Dacian wept with rage, but strangely enough, ordered the prisoner to be given some rest.

Friends among the faithful came to visit him, but he was to have no earthly rest. When they finally settled him on a comfortable bed, he went to his eternal rest.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

St. Anthony of Egypt

We celebrate the life and legacy of St. Anthony of Egypt, the founder of Christian monasticism whose radical approach to discipleship permanently impacted the Church.  Anthony was born around 251, to wealthy parents who owned land in the present-day Faiyum region near Cairo.  Anthony become the spiritual father of the monastic communities that have existed throughout the subsequent history of the Church.

Anthony's whole life was not one of observing, but of becoming. When his parents died when he was eighteen or twenty he inherited their three hundred acres of land and the responsibility for a young sister. One day in church, he heard read Matthew 19:21: "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me." Not content to sit still and meditate and reflect on Jesus' words he walked out the door of the church right away and gave away all his property except what he and his sister needed to live on. 

On hearing Matthew 6:34, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today," he gave away everything else, entrusted his sister to a convent, and went outside the village to live a life of praying, fasting, and manual labor. It wasn't enough to listen to words, he had to become what Jesus said.

Every time he heard of a holy person he would travel to see that person. But he wasn't looking for words of wisdom, he was looking to become. So if he admired a person's constancy in prayer or courtesy or patience, he would imitate it. Then he would return home.

Anthony went on to tell Greek philosophers that their arguments would never be as strong as faith. He pointed out that all rhetoric, all arguments, no matter how complex, how well-founded, were created by human beings. But faith was created by God. If they wanted to follow the greatest ideal, they should follow their faith.

Anthony knew how difficult this was. Throughout his life he argued and literally wrestled with the devil. anxiety, desire for power, ego and money. Anthony relied on Jesus' name to rid himself of the devil. It wasn't the last time, though. After one particular difficult struggle, he saw a light appearing in the tomb he lived in. Knowing it was God, Anthony called out, "Where were you when I needed you?" God answered, "I was here. I was watching your struggle. Because you didn't give in, I will stay with you and protect you forever."

Anthony died when he was one hundred and five years old. A life of solitude, fasting, and manual labor in the service of God had left him a healthy, vigorous man until very late in life. And he never stopped challenging himself to go one step beyond in his faith.

Saint Athanasius, who knew Anthony and wrote his biography, said, "Anthony was not known for his writings nor for his worldly wisdom, nor for any art, but simply for his reverence toward God." We may wonder nowadays at what we can learn from someone who lived in the desert, wore skins, ate bread, and slept on the ground. We may wonder how we can become him. We can become Anthony by living his life of radical faith and complete commitment to God.

Compiled from various sources.
image: By Master of the Osservanza Triptych (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Reshaped in the image of Christ

Living in the awareness of the risen Christ is not a trivial pursuit for the bored and lonely or a defense mechanism enabling us to cope with the stress and sorrow of life. It is the key that unlocks the door to grasping the meaning of existence. All day and every day we are being reshaped into the image of Christ. Everything that happens to us is designed to this end. Nothing that exists can exist beyond the pale of His presence (“All things were created through him. and for him” — Colossians 1:16), nothing is irrelevant to it, nothing is without significance in it.
Brennan Manning The Rabbi's Heartbeat

Conversations on Faith: The Rev. Benjamin Gildas from Episcopal Diocese of PA on Vimeo .