Friday, June 17, 2016

Friday

We concluded a second St Michael's Youth Conference that can only be termed "highly-successful." Morning Prayer at 8:00, followed by packing and checking out of our rooms, and a concluding Solemn Mass (votive of St Michael & All Angels), with several family members of our "Michaelites" in attendance. We posed for pictures, cleaned up various liturgical-musical accoutrements, loaded up the YFNBmobile, said our goodbyes, and headed home. As our wheels left the grounds of Our Lady of the Snows, by sabbatical formally began. There is still a non-unsubstantial list of loose ends to be tied up, but I will take care of those from home over the next few days. But this will be my final post in this space until October 16. I begin my Camino de Compostela pilgrimage on August 12, and may post something on Facebook either sporadically or regularly for the ensuing 40 days, but nothing here. Have a great summer and early fall. And do pray for me.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Thursday (Joseph Butler)

  • When is McDonald's for breakfast the "healthier" alternative? When what's being served where you are is a protein-free assortment of carbohydrates. So Brenda and I made an early-morning McDonald's run.
  • 8:00 Morning Prayer.
  • From 8:45 until 11:20, we were in teaching mode: First Fr Halt making his second of two presentations on the Book of Genesis (Chapter 1-3 thereof, to be specific ... and it was quite fine), then YFNB on the final installment of my four-part series, focusing on how believing that Jesus really did rise from the dead is actually the most rationally plausible response to the documentary and historical data on the subject that we have.
  • Choir practice in the chapel, followed by Mass for the lesser feast of Joseph Butler. I presided and Fr Tony Clavier preached.
  • Lunch was at a simple picnic pavilion at a state park in East St Louis, and consisted by pizza, chips, animal crackers, and Gatorade. The actual air temperature hovered in the upper 90s, and, with the humidity, the "misery index" was ... up there.
  • The heart of the afternoon was spend around the backyard pool of St Michael's, O'Fallon parishioners Mark and Audrey Waight in Swansea.
  • Back to the ranch to clean up and report to Christ the King Chapel for the final of Fr Baumann's fine presentations on prayer, followed by Evensong.
  • Dinner in our customary Guild Hall location.
  • Back to the chapel, where Frs Baumann and Wetmore taught the kids how to prepare for and make a confession. Then, while the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in a monstrance on the altar for adoration, there was an opportunity for those who wished to to actually make their confession, while everyone else kept vigil in the chapel.
  • The evening was concluded with the customary St Michael's Conference tableau of the battle of St Michael and all his angelic forces against the evil powers that rebel against God. Tomorrow, the conference concludes with a late-morning Solemn Mass.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wednesday (Evelyn Underhill)

  • Usual St Michael's Youth Conference morning routine: Morning Prayer at 8:00, followed by a teaching period (Fr Halt on the Book of Genesis), followed by my own teaching session, this one on the subject of Revelation (not the book of the Bible bearing that name, but the notion that there are some things about God that we would never know unless God revealed them to us).
  • I celebrated the Mass for the lesser feast of Evelyn Underhill. Fr Baumann preached.
  • Lunch in our usual location, followed by some mandatory "FOB" (flat on back) time for the youth. (Naps aren't just for kindergarteners anymore.)
  • At 3:15, we convened for another of Fr Baumann's presentations on prayer, followed, about an hour later, by Evensong.
  • We then carpooled to the Fairview Heights Metrolink station and made our way across the river to Busch Stadium for an encounter between the St Louis Cardinals and the Houston Astros. (The Astros won, which is what a handful of us were hoping for.)
  • One of the sweetly memorable moments of the day happened as we were at the Metrolink station organizing our transit back to Our Lady of the Snows. Fr Ben Hankinson called the kids together and, with three or four eBCP apps between us, we managed to pray Compline right there in the area between the platform and the parking lot. None of the kids died of embarrassment and people walked by and could see that we were obviously praying.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Tuesday (St Basil)

  • Morning Prayer (said) at 8:00.
  • Another long and excellent teaching on the sacraments from Mother Beth Maynard, with a break in the middle and a break at the end.
  • 45 minutes from YFNB on "How do we know stuff?"--one might say, an introduction to epistemology without using that word. This was a followup to yesterday's teaching on what it means to be a human person (theological anthropology) and a setup to tomorrow's presentation on Revelation. The responses from the kids confirmed (and then some) my suspicion that it is not only necessary to teach the content of the Christian and Catholic faith to our young folks, but to provide them with some intellectual/philosophical infrastructure that can subvert the cultural miasma of Cartesian subjectivism in which they swim.
  • Choir practice, followed by Mass for the lesser feast of St Basil the Great. I presided, Mother Beth preached.
  • Lunch in the usual place--the room adjacent to our meeting area.
  • About 90 minutes of down time--must needed by YFNB!
  • A expedition to a nearby bowling alley. Great fun. We all played two games, and wore ourselves out.
  • Evensong back at the ranch, followed by friend chicken dinner back at the ranch.
  • Another superb teaching on prayer by Fr Baumann.
  • The movie Inside Out, which illustrates the problem I am trying to counter in my talks.
  • Compline.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Monday

  • Continental breakfast in the lounge area of our guest accommodations at the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows in Belleville.
  • Morning Prayer at 8am.
  • The rest of the morning was consumed by a superb presentation on the sacraments (the first of two) by Mother Beth Maynard, followed by a 40-minute presentation from YFNB on "What is it to be a human being?", which might be more succinctly described as "an introduction to theological anthropology." Only I didn't use that expression with the kids!
  • Votive Mass of the Holy Trinity at noon, at which I presided and Fr Wetmore preached, preceded by 30 minutes of "choir practice"--learning/reviewing some of the service music for both Mass and Evensong.
  • Lunch catered by the shrine staff in the same building as our meeting area.
  • The afternoon was devoted to recreation. We car-pooled to a rock wall gym in St Louis. With my nearly pathological fear of heights, I didn't even make a pretense. But I was certainly a watcher, encourager, and picture taker.
  • Having arrived back of OLOS to clean up, we prayed (sang) the evening office on the late side (most of 6:45 by the time we got underway), then braved a torrential thunderstorm to make our way to a pizza den (yes, that's what it calls itself) in Fairview Heights for dinner. 
  • We got back around 9pm, and I was proud of these youth for still being awake and attentive to Fr Bauman's second of five presentations on prayer. This was capped off by Compline, and we were back in our rooms by 10:00. A full day.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Lord's Day (IV Pentecost)

Arose in my Joliet hotel room in time to get on the road and headed southward for the 10am Eucharist at St Matthew's, Bloomington, where I just sat in a pew and worshiped with the congregation. Then I got to spend about three hours at home--some of it resting--before Brenda and I headed south once again, this time with the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows as our destination, for the beginning of the second annual Diocese of Springfield St Michael's Youth Conference. We'll be here until midday Friday.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

St Barnabas

Home is sweet, but this taste of sweetness was fleeting. I was unpacked and repacked and back on the road before 11:30, headed back north. By 3:00pm I was at St Paul's Church in Riverside (suburban Chicago--interestingly, a few yards from where I lived for the year that I should have been in kindergarten, but wasn't, because Riverside public schools didn't offer it in the 1950s) ... yes, out of my jurisdiction, but I was there with the permission of the Bishop of Chicago, since the occasion was the (transitional) diaconal ordination of Matthew Dallman, and St Paul's was Matthew's home parish before he was adopted by the Diocese of Springfield. It was a celebration that was splendid in every way, despite being in a church where the air conditioning wasn't keeping up with the 90+ degree heat. After the ordination, and a subsequent celebration in a nearby Irish pub, I headed back south as far as Joliet, where I am camped out at my home-away-from-home, the Hampton Inn.

Friday (St Ephrem of Edessa)

Continued to participate in the Covenant authors seminar in Orlando. This is included presiding and preaching at the noon Eucharist, keeping the lesser feast of St Ephrem of Edessa. (I highlighted how, even as part of Covenant's mission is to irenically chip away at the philosophical underpinnings of postmodernism, we need to do so not only in a rational and verbal way, but in a poetic and artistic way as well, as Ephrem advanced to the cause of Nicene orthodoxy in his day through writing hymns.) At 2:45 I broke away from the group (the conference actually concludes Saturday morning) and began my long journey home ... Orlando to Atlanta and Atlanta to Bloomington by air, Bloomington to Springfield by car. I got home a little past midnight.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Thursday (St Columba)

Morning and afternoon sessions unpacking The Brothers Karamazov. I don't often get this sort of intellectual stimulation, and it is very life-giving for me. Our day was punctuated by both meals and worship (Morning Prayer, Mass, Evensong).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Wednesday

Out the door at 9:15, headed for Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington. Caught the 11:40 to Atlanta, eventually ending up in Orlando at 4:30 EDT. Devoured Cliff's Notes to The Brothers Karamazov (which I read in its entirety a couple of years ago) on both legs of the journey. Retrieved my checked luggage, picked up a rental car, and drove up to Oviedo, home of the Diocese of Central Florida's retreat and conference center (familiar territory for me from three prior visits). Joined over twenty other authors from the Covenant blog, in whose company I am proud to number myself. We will be chowing down over the next couple of days on the aforementioned Dostoyevsky novel. This is our annual retreat. Last year we did Augustine's City of God, so this is somewhat lighter fare!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Tuesday

  • Usual AM weekday routine on this, my last regular office weekday until mid-October.
  • Morning Prayer in the cathedral.
  • Extended phone conversation with the Dean of Nashotah House, over some emerging concerns.
  • Spoke by phone with the Bank of America employee who is effectively my co-trustee over the Putnam Trust.
  • Sent the text of an old sermon for this coming Sunday to the licensed lay person who will be officiating in a currently priestless parish.
  • Signed and sealed the ordination certificate for Matthew Dallman's deaconing, set for this Saturday afternoon.
  • Got to work scanning the prodigious pile of materials in my physical inbox, taking odd moments in the process to also bring some order to my physical desktop.
  • Lunch from La Bamba, eaten at home.
  • Sat down with the Archdeacon to take stock of the financial resources available to assist seminarians, which we are shortly set to have more of than at any other time on my watch. Looped the Administrator in on the plans, since it will fall to her to execute them.
  • Resumed and completed the physical inbox processing.
  • Worked on some of the details for worship at next week's St Michael's Youth Conference.
  • All through all of this, processed a pretty steady stream of incoming emails.
  • Evening Prayer in the cathedral.

Sunday, June 5, 2016

The Lord's Day (III Pentecost)

Arose at a seemly hour in my Mt Carmel guest accommodations (courtesy of some hospitable parishioners), and hit the road about 15 miles west to Albion, where the good people of St John's had agreed to move their accustomed 9:00 Mass to 8:30 for the same of my schedule. Shared Word and Sacrament with them, and visited for a while over a light repast in their right-sized parish hall. There are some solid and faithful disciples among this small band under the devoted pastoral care of Fr Bill Howard. Then I retraced the miles to Mt Carmel and the regular Sunday liturgy at St John the Baptist, pushed 30 minutes to 11am. I cannot fail to mention how well this group sings; they outshine some much larger congregations in that department! Fr Brant Hazelett takes good pastoral care of them. After some delicious potluck ham, I began the nearly 200 mile trek home a bit past 12:30, entertained by a Cubs game on the radio. While I did not enjoy the outcome, that sort of thing is very effective in making the time feel like it's passing more quickly. Home right at 5:00.

Sermon for Proper 5

St Mary's, Robinson; St John's, Albion; St John the Baptist, Mt Carmel--Luke 7:11-17, I Kings 17:17-24

Let me pose a question that may seem like it has an obvious answer—but I wonder how readily any of us would be able to answer it: What’s the point of being a Christian?  Now, I’d kind of like to just pull up a chair and toss that one around with you for a while and see what we come up with. But we haven't got time for that, plus, I’m the one whose job it is to say something at this point in our liturgy.

What’s the point of being a Christian? For many years, during my childhood and youth, my answer would have been: To go to Heaven, and not Hell, when I die. Many people hold this view. By default, we’re all going to Hell. But if, at any moment, you sincerely acknowledge to God that you are a sinner, and sincerely put your trust in the shed blood of Christ to atone for your sins, then you will go to Heaven. Saying that prayer makes a permanent change in one’s standing before God. In the moment of that prayer, you are “saved,” no matter what evil things you’ve done before then. Now, there’s some debate about whether you can ever lose that sort of salvation. Some say No—once saved, always saved. Others say that you can lose your status if you don’t live a life that is generally consistent with the faith in Christ that you professed when you were saved.

By contrast, some would say that the point of being a Christian is to be “a good person.” That seems to be largely an assumption of people who are not Christians, or merely nominal Christians—you know, the “Christmas and Easter” variety. From this point of view, the primary significance of Jesus is as a teacher and example. If we listen to and imitate Jesus, we will love our neighbor, practice honesty and generosity in all our dealings, tell the truth, honor every person’s freedom and dignity, and generally be upstanding citizens, the kind of “good person” that we wish there were more of.

For many others—a great many in the Episcopal Church, I have to say—the point of being a Christian is, quite simply, to make the world a better place. Our collective mission is to be God’s hands and feet in this world, striving to eliminate war, eradicate poverty, dismantle racism, and redress injustice, all of which effort will tend to disincentive both crime and terrorism. God is counting on us to be the instruments of the coming of his Kingdom of righteousness and justice, peace and love.

But perhaps we would do well to ask ourselves, What did Jesus say? What did Jesus say about the point of being his follower? Was is so that people could “go to Heaven” when they die? Was it so that we could all learn to be nicer and more civil toward one another? Was it to form an army of justice workers and community organizers? I have to say, I don’t think any of these understandings hits the bull’s-eye, but they are all at least somewhere on the target. In the tenth chapter of John’s gospel, beginning at the tenth verse, and speaking of all people everywhere, Jesus says, “I am come that they might have life, and have it more abundantly.” Abundant life. Jesus came to bring us abundant life. Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, frequently uses the expression human flourishing to describe what abundant life looks like. It includes obvious low-level physical needs like health and security; you can’t flourish if you’re constantly sick or constantly vulnerable to violence. But human flourishing—abundant life—also presupposes a degree of community, a community where there is mutuality, where people have the skill and the resiliency to live reconciled—or, more importantly, perhaps, reconciling—with one another. Human flourishing certainly includes meaningful work and economic security. But abundant life also addresses our higher-level needs—the need to have, literally, a reason for living, a sense that one’s life is significant, that it has meaning and purpose—meaning and purpose, that is, in the context of the knowledge and love of God, for there can be no meaning and purpose except in relation to the One who made us and sustains us.

“I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” In light of what most human lives are actually like, we could be forgiven the amount of cynicism required to see these words on the lips of Jesus as more aspirational than real, right? Yet, the audacious claim that the Church makes is that only through repentance, faith, baptism, eucharist, and discipleship do human beings find ultimate meaning, purpose, and reconciliation. Christians make the insufferably audacious claim that Jesus is the one who delivers on the hope of abundant life, delivers on the promise of human flourishing.

Like I said, it’s an audacious claim. It even smacks of arrogance. It’s certainly something that needs to be authenticated. So we have two stories in our readings this morning that have to do with the authentication of a bearer of good news

The Prophet Elijah first meets the widow of Zarapheth, and her son, when they’re both about to die of starvation, and he asks her to make him a pancake with the little bit of flour and oil that she had earmarked for her and her son’s last meal. When, against her better judgment, the widow complies with Elijah’s request, she discovers that her supply of flour and oil constantly looks like it’s going to run out, but never actually does so, until the famine was ended. After that, Elijah became friends with the woman and her son, and took a guest room in their home. The boy suddenly takes ill one day, and he dies. The widow is beside herself and rails at Elijah and Elijah’s God with sarcasm: “This is what I get for being kind to you? My son gets taken from me?” So the prophet takes the limp body of the boy up to his room and offers what had to be the most heartfelt prayer ever offered. A few minutes later, he’s back downstairs, only now with a very much alive young boy. So Elijah was authenticated as a “man of God”—the descriptor by which he was known—Elijah was authenticated by being the vehicle through which life was restored, the vehicle through which human flourishing was made manifest to the widow of Zarephath.
Then, in Luke’s gospel, Chapter 7, we have a strikingly similar story. There’s a widow there’s a widow’s son who has died (only this widow’s son is a grown man), and there’s a “man of God”—in this case, Jesus. Jesus and his followers just randomly run into a funeral. It’s a strange town; Jesus doesn’t know anybody there and they don’t know him. But Jesus is moved by what he sees, by the grief of the young man’s mother and the loud mourning of the others who were there. Acting somewhat more confidently than Elijah did, Jesus grasps the dead man’s hand and invites him to sit up, which he does, and the man is restored to life, much to the amazement and delight of everyone there. In so doing, Jesus was authenticated as a prophet even greater than Elijah.

You and I, my friends, are the “messengers” of Jesus. We have a message to share, news to tell. We might well ask, How is our message authenticated? Today’s liturgy gives us the answer: Our message is authenticated by the fruit that it bears, by the observable reality that the gospel is effective, that Jesus delivers on what he claims to deliver: abundant life and human flourishing. The good news of Jesus is authentically life-giving.

So the witness of the church-in-mission is authenticated by its superiority to the idols, the false gods, of our age and culture—false gods such as wealth and power and reputation; idols such productivity and social connections and personal autonomy and any sort of identity other than child of God and follower of Christ. Part of the exercise of our missionary responsibility is to seek out and hold up instances of abundant life and flourishing among those who have become disciples of Jesus: We see addicts not just enter recovery but get recovered from addiction. We see marriages that are hopelessly entangled in resentment and conflict get healed and made whole. We see family relationships that have been “stuck” in estrangement, sometimes for generations, find reconciliation. We see people who are consumed by greed become exemplars of generosity, finding contentedness with having enough rather than constantly grasping for more. We see saints in our midst who can manage to see the image of God in every person they meet. We see immense courage in the face of immense adversity. We have the amazing experience of watching someone die in an astonishingly holy way. And from time to time, we see miraculous healing from terminal diseases and people who testify to mystical experiences, visions of angels hovering over the altar during the celebration of the Eucharist. We see all these things, and the world can see all these things, and that is the authentication of our message.

Are Christians free from sin and effects of sin? Quite obviously, No. Are these signs sometimes evident among non-Christians? Quite obviously, Yes. But our witness will be known as authentic when people see that faith in Christ brings peace, faith in Christ brings purpose, faith in Christ brings hope, and joy of a sort that is not predictably available elsewhere, when they see that the best route to human flourishing is through the One who is himself life itself. Praise be Jesus Christ. Amen.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Saturday

Back from a wonderful couple of days of personal and family time in Chicago, wherein I took in a Cubs game at Wrigley, attended a performance of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and met the latest addition to the family, little Harriet ("Hattie") Lorell Solano Martins, born on May 31 to our son and his wife. She's amazing, even though that's what you'd expect a grandfather to say, right? 

Today I allowed myself a usual relaxed-pace Saturday morning, eventually getting around to a four-mile walk up to and around Washington Park. By the time I got back, it was time to clean up and pack and hit the road in a southeasterly direction. Presided and preached at the specially-timed celebration of the Eucharist at St Mary's, Robinson, then visited with the folks over potluck, then privately with Mother Ann Tofani for a bit. It then took about an hour to drive down to my lodging in Mt Carmel, ahead of tomorrow's visits to St John the Baptist there and to St John's in Albion.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Wednesday (St Justin Martyr)

  • Devotions in the cathedral; Morning Prayer in the office.
  • Conferred with the Archdeacon--and then again several times through the day--on the details of a Letter of Agreement for an impending call to one of our vacant cures.
  • Prepared to preside and preach at the midday Mass.
  • Attended to a couple of pastoral-administrative items, both involving the initiation of a check-preparation process.
  • Met with one of our new postulants for Holy Orders and discussed some of the details of his academic formation.
  • Dashed off an email to the Academic Dean at Nashotah signaling my approval for three of our postulants to be residential students there in the fall.
  • Attended via email to two more pastoral-administrative concerns.
  • Met with yet another individual in the early stages of discernment of a possible vocation to ordination. I've had quite a raft of such conversations lately.
  • Presided and preached at the 12:15 Mass, keeping the lesser feast of St Justin Martyr.
  • Lunch from McD's, eaten at home.
  • Devoted the rest of the afternoon to fleshing out the bare outlines I created last week of my four 40-minute teaching opportunities at the St Michael's Youth Conference week after next. Without using any of this technical language, I'll be attempting to introduce the kids to Christian Anthropology, Epistemology, Revelation, and Apologetics re the Resurrection of Christ. Wish me luck (or, better yet, say a prayer).
  • Evening Prayer in the office.
NOTE: Tomorrow and Friday will be personal time, as Brenda and I have tickets at the Chicago Symphony tomorrow evening ... a new granddaughter to introduce ourselves to for the first time! So I'll check back in here on Saturday night.