Romans 8:37

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors [hupernikomen] through him who loved us. Romans 8:37

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Apostolic Succession

One of the defining features of being a member of one of the catholic churches (Orthodox, Roman & Anglican) is Apostolic Succession.  As I understand it, Apostolic Succession IS the defining principle of being Catholic.  It is not so, if you only understand Apostolic Succession as the lineage of bishops over the centuries who have had hands laid upon them in unbroken succession since the first apostles.  That in itself, is a remarkable fact, but it is what was conveyed upon them through the laying on of hands that makes this great ancient tradition the defining feature of what it means to be a Catholic within Apostolic Succession.  A man who is consecrated as a bishop receives much more than just hands laid upon him; he receives the authority of the Church through the action of the Holy Spirit.  The bishops of the Church who are consecrating their brother are praying for the Holy Spirit to set him aside for a unique and holy work because they believe that Christ Himself has called the ordinand to carry on the ministry of the Universal Church by means of the Holy Spirit and the Apostolic Tradition.  This holy work that the bishop is called to carry on is not a new work, nor a new truth, nor a new church; it is the Faith once received by the apostles who conveyed it into the future by the command of Christ and the laying on of hands.

Apostolic Succession is not merely a romantic historic anchronism of the old liturgical churches - it is the very fiber of the Church.  Apostolic Succession is the conduit for ensuring that the Faith received by Jesus' disciples is the same faith that is taught today.  We would not have Bibles in our homes and churches without Apostolic Succession.  Jesus entrusted his teaching to the Apostles, who entrusted it to their disciples, who entrusted it to the first bishops of the Church, who carried it through the many decades of martyrdom and persecution until the point that the Church as a whole had the opportunity to codify it into a unified body of writings which we now call Holy Scripture, or the Bible.  Even the new non-denominational churches who no longer have the corporate memory of the Church, are the blessed beneficiaries of this fact.

I am so awed by this, that I have made it a point to mention in a number of my sermons, that "I do not have permission to preach anything new."  The responsiblity of both the clergy and the laity is to know the difference between the Faith once delivered to the Apostles and something new.  The clergy must study and preach the Received Faith, and the laity must search the Scriptures to see if the preaching is true.  When this is done faithfully and energetically by both clergy and laity, our Faith is transferred to the next generation and we are fullfilling the Great Commission.  Conversely, when we hear bishops and priests teaching a "new tradition" that is different than the recieved Faith, we know that something is not right.  Those bishops and priests may have recieved the laying on of hands within the human lineage of Apostolic Succession but they are not following the commission that they vowed to keep when they were ordained.  Apostolic Succession without the Received Faith is empty. It is a lifeless shell.  In fact, Apostolic Succession without the Received Faith is NOT a true succession. It is a masquarade.  In the parable of the two sons (Matthew 21.28-32),  Jesus made it clear that it was the son who finally went as his father bid him, who did the will of his father, not the one who said he would go and then did not obey.

A bishop vested in cope and mitre, who holds a crozier, and wears a brilliant ring with the seal of the diocese is a very imposing figure.  But only the one who protects and conveys the Faith once Received - the Good News of Jesus - only that bishop is bearing witness to the full measure of Apostolic Succession.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Paradox of the Incarnation

"...there can be no getting around the essential paradoxicality of the Christian confession of Christ as Lord. 'Take away paradox from a thinker,' Soren Kierkegaard once quipped, 'and you have a professor.' Transposed into Christology, we may paraphrase the line as: 'Take away paradox from a theologian, and you have a heretic.'"

This quote is from the book Infinity Dwindled to Infancy by Edward T. Oakes (page 15).

Friday, August 26, 2011

Secretaries Validated

Any priest worth his collar needs to be able to admit he's wrong and say he's sorry often. Apparently, this is something that the Lord has determined that I shall practice regularly.  This is especially important when you are posting your "private" journal entries on a public blog. Hopefully, the secretaries of Blessed Odo's will never discover this blog, but if they should, "I'm sorry. You were right, once again."

It turns out that Jane, the homeless woman of whom I wrote previously, had to be removed from our grounds because she was using drugs and refused to follow the rules.  While most of my righteous indignation evident in the post "Assault of the Secretaries" was exaggerated for the sake of drama (a few of these blog entries are fact turned to quasi-fiction), I never seem to get away with righteous indignation.  I'm just not righteous enough.  What did Jesus say?  "There is no one good but God; no not one."

The Lord has been working on my conscience a lot lately; so that even my semi-fictional exaggerations were troubling me.  Moreover, I am deeply troubled by the influence of bitter, complaining and divisive spirits in the Church.  They work tirelessly to bring discord between the members of Christ's Church, so that we often reach the point that we no longer want to have fellowship with one another.  How that must grieve our Lord.  If only we would be as consistent in our praise and encouragement for one another as we are in our criticisms.

Here is a real example of the caliber of people that I work with: A lady who is home bound called the office recently saying she was out of food and unable to go get any on her own.  The secretary who was on duty that day got together with the receptionist and the bookkeeper and they put some groceries together and took it to that lady and her sick husband.  This couple are not members of our church; they aren't visitors; we've never met them before this.  Not all of the office staff at Blessed Odo's are members of the same church, but they are all Christians who live out their faith well on a daily basis.  I could easily give you a dozen more examples of their sanctified hearts, but will have to save that for another time.

Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,  I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.'  Then the righteous will answer him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?'  And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.'  - Matthew 25:34-40 [ESV]


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Assault of the Secretaries

Blessed Odo's is aptly named.  This parish is not named after St Odo of Cluny, but after Blessed Odo of Cambrai.  So, we do not even rise to the level of a capital “S” saint, merely a blessed, which seems very appropriate for a humble parish. Blessed Odo's is not small in size and property but meek in affect and enormous of heart.  Blessed Odo's is in a depressed neighborhood with an active transient and homeless population, surrounded by section 8 housing.  Our grounds are open and a kind of oasis where a number of homeless people take advantage of the green trees and relatively safe atmosphere.  It seems absolutely fitting that a church would be a safe island in the midst of so much hopelessness.  That sounds poetic and beautiful in print, but in reality it is quite messy and time-consuming.  We feed them and allow some of them to spend the night if they don't cause trouble and follow our directions.  One rule is that they must leave the grounds at sunrise.  Hopefully, this will give the reader enough background for what followed after the morning Mass of Scolding, of which I wrote previously.

Immediately after the Mass ended, I walked into the office to be met by frowning secretaries: “One of the homeless was walking toward the chapel as I drove in this morning.”  “Yes. There are shopping carts all over the place.” chimed in another secretary.  “Someone really needs to do something about this.”  Both looked at me, and we all knew exactly who the someone was.  I turned on my heel, went into my office and hung up my vestments. And then went out directly toward the chapel to do some scolding of my own.

I reached the chapel garden and saw Jane, one of our regulars, trying to manage a full shopping cart and a bicycle.  She saw me and smiled, “I was just coming to look for you, 'cause I have a question.”

“Oh?”  My scolding balloon was loosing air.

“Yes” She replied.  “I have some Bible questions for you.”

“Oh?” I repeated. My scolding scenario was now overturned and frantically working to upright itself.

She took me to the armor of God passage in Paul's letter to the Ephesians in her new Bible that one of our deacons had given her.  “I sometimes get angry with God” She said, “I don't know why he lets people suffer like this.  He doesn't seem to care, but I know I must have faith, right?  I try to practice that, but it is difficult sometimes.”

“Yeah, whatever.” I replied coldly.  “Get you and your crap off of the church property. You know the rules!”  Was that what I was supposed to say?  Well, I didn't say that.  Who could?  Instead, I shared the Gospel with her, and I prayed with her.  Prayed that she would find the inner-tube for her bicycle; prayed that God would increase her faith; prayed that the Lord would give her comfort and peace; prayed that God would give her understanding as she read her Bible; prayed that God would heal her feet and provide new shoes for her.”  And then gently reminded her that she was supposed to be off the property in the morning, but she could rest her feet and get her stuff organized first.  Should I have demanded even that?  I don't know. It seems to me that we all need motivation to keep moving.

I came back into the office, and got the well-what-happened look from the secretaries. I told the story and then concluded (dramatically), “I told her to leave.” With the unspoken thought, “that's what you wanted, right?”  Well, of course that's not what they wanted, when presented like that.  Our secretaries are wonderful, loving women, who desire the Lord's grace for all.  In fact they continually go out of their way to help people.

That's how we all are. That's how I am.  We are quite ready to confront someone else, or to accuse someone else, but if we get face to face with them and hear their stories, our self-righteousness just melts away.  We are face to face with a person, not a problem.  And once we see that person as a person rather than as a problem, the encounter is much less likely to be an angry confrontation.  Don't we see that in Jesus?  Sure he confronted people, but he always treated them as people, not as obstacles to get past.

Note: This is a somewhat fictionalized retelling of a real event. A little liberty was taken for the sake of emphasis, and to keep private the identities of those involved. Beyond that, the basic story is true. See "Secretaries Validated" for the rest of the story.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Back Off!

This morning I arrived early to chapel to prepare for Mass, and the early morning intercessory group of ladies started giving me a hard time for not come early enough to be a part of their prayer group. I hadn't much sleep last night, so I wasn't in a pleasant mood.  The ladies were doing that scolding made to look like teasing thing but I wasn't falling for it.  I'm sure I was scowling from the start.  So then the scolding turned into "come give us a hug," which I was suspicious of. The whole time I'm thinking, I just want to get the readings and altar book marked, so that I can start Mass on time.  None of the "scolders" stayed for Mass, not because they were angry, they rarely stay for Mass on Thursdays - but will I scold them, no!  Then another lady showed up for Mass and started interrogating me about something I had planned for next Sunday, of which she clearly did not approve.  I was simmering underneath, mindful of James' admonition [3.5] .

As the prayers and lessons got under way, I discovered that we were offering Psalm 56, "Have mercy on me, O God, for my enemies are hounding me; all day long they assault and oppress me."  "Yes. That's right."  I thought bitterly.  I well knew that I was misappropriating the verse, but didn't care.  Finally, we reached the canon of the Mass, and I realized that it wasn't really that big of a deal, and I wasn't angry anymore.  Of course, the Lord is faithful. He fed me and made me once again back into His image.  Thank you, Lord!

Next, the assault of the secretaries . . .

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Interesting People

Today I was late arriving to "Blessed Odo's Parish". As soon as I got out of my car, I saw our USPS mail lady with her arms full of mail, and a slightly built man wearing a tie with his bible open standing next to her, waiting at the church office door. As I was hurrying to the office door, I imagined that the stranger was a street preacher evangelizing our USPS lady. I see her every Saturday morning right at 9:00am but I don't know anything about her other than the fact that she is very pleasant, always on time, and a person of few words. I had never seen the man with the tie before this. Behind them in our courtyard between the office and the church, a mentally-ill woman was sitting on a mat next to her shopping cart listening to very loud-top forty music. It was a typical morning at Blessed Odo's.

As I reached the office door I simultaneously heard: "Do you have any mail for me?" (USPS Lady) And, "You might want to call the police and file a police report" (Man with tie and bible). I apologized to the USPS lady as I unlocked the door, and gave the man with the bible, a confused blinking look, which I have perfected over the years.

After I exchanged mail with the USPS, the tie and bible man, now known as Ronald, explained that he had seen another man stooped over a large box of keys, and I might want to call the police. But that was peanuts compared to the stuff that I usually call the police about; so I wasn't much concerned. Ronald could see that I was in a hurry: Holy Eucharist was beginning soon, and I was the not-yet-vested-celebrant and no-notes-in-hand-preacher. So, Ronald, bless his heart, volunteered to go get the box of keys and show them to me. "Thank you." I replied and went in to vest. As I came out, Ronald handed me the box of keys, "Yes, they do look like some of ours. Thank you!"

Ronald followed me over to the chapel and suggested that we should arm night watchmen with paint-ball guns, so that they (himself included) could shoot ne'er-do-wells, and that would make it easier for the police to find them. "Hmm." I nodded without commitment. I could see that he wasn't joking. In my head, I was thinking, the person with the paintball gun would be arrested, or else shot with a real gun, and we'd be sued.

The "interesting people" often times are the "irritating people" to me because they interfere with my schedule, but the Lord keeps reminding me of how often he changed his plans for the sake of the people he was ministering to. I've also been mindful lately of Jesus' stern admonition to call no man a "fool" - the danger of doing so being the very fires of hell. That is a very serious reprimand. [Mt 5.22] So, I am working hard to ween myself away from those mutterings under my breath where I call people, moron, idiot, jerk, et cetera.

As I prepare to hit the "post" button, I recall that I just celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration, and how much I continually need to be transformed into the image of Christ.  Lord have mercy!

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in . . .  - Jesus [Mt 25.35]