You can tell that our politicians are anxiously anticipating the 2018 mid-term election year in America because they are practically tripping over one another these days to climb aboard the “holiness” bandwagon. At the evangelical Liberty University commencement ceremony a few weeks ago, Donald J. Trump offered his undying allegiance to so-called traditional values. The “Make America Great Again” agenda apparently includes returning America to its “Judeo-Christian roots” and “free market values,” aka laissez-faire capitalism. No matter what we may say in America about the constitutional separation of Church and State, like it or not, politics and religion are constant—albeit often uncomfortable—bedfellows in our culture. And very often, when religious leaders do occasionally summon the courage and audacity to intervene in matters of public policy, both sides in our “culture wars” are equal-opportunity critics who alternately applaud and pillory God and religion whenever it suits their comfort and convenience, regardless of political persuasion. Continue reading →
As a Massachusetts resident and a part-time history buff, and in light of Friday’s inauguration, this past week I went back to President Kennedy’s inaugural address of 1961, the famous “Ask not what your country can do for you…” speech. In this speech Kennedy lays his vision for the country. A vision of “unwillingness to witness or permit the slow undoing of… human rights.” A vision of the “survival and the success of liberty,” here and around the globe. A vision committed to those “south of the border,” and our “special pledge… to assist free men and free governments in casting off the chains of poverty.” A vision of support for the United Nations, “our last best hope in an age where the instruments of war have far outpaced the instruments of peace.” A vision of a world in which “civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof.” A vision of “both sides [exploring] what problems unite us instead of belaboring those problems which divide us.” A vision of “a new world of law, where the strong are just and the weak secure and the peace preserved.” Anybody remember? It was – and is – a stirring, hope-filled speech. Continue reading →
Like many of you, I have been both fascinated and inspired these last four years by the world’s reaction to Pope Francis: the bishop of Rome; the Roman Catholic Church’s leader; a genuine peacemaker; and an emissary of God’s mercy and pastoral concern for all humanity. He has clearly created quite a stir among both the churched and the un-churched across the globe, including members of other Christian communions as well. And it has been a very long time since—not one, but two—papal documents known as Apostolic Exhortations, an ordinarily obscure and unnoticed Vatican pronouncement, have achieved bestseller status and have been commented upon and debated by so many in the media. They have even attracted commentary from political leaders at the highest level. Our own clergy, wardens, and vestry here at Trinity have “read, marked, and inwardly digested” (BCP) this first Jesuit pope’s stirring exhortation to evangelism, entitled The Joy of the Gospel, and have been moved to enlarge our new parish’s mission statement to include the aspiration to become “contemplatives in action”: missionary disciples and evangelists for whom prayer leads us to action, and action leads us back to prayer. We have multiple copies of The Joy of the Gospel in the parish office for any of you who may be curious—or even inspired—to explore for yourself the cause of the great fuss.
Fr. Gaston, the protagonist of Bruce Marshall’s 1949 novel, To Every Man a Penny, knows the complexity of God’s world, how not everything is clean and clear-cut, that there are shades of grey and sometimes difficult decisions. And he also understands God’s extravagant and abundant mercy, how God is willing to bend to meet us where we are in complex life circumstances. The novel is set in France between the wars, in a Church with many “shoulds” and “oughts.” In this rigid, rule-bound setting Fr. Gaston frequently runs afoul of Church authorities. For example, Fr. Gaston gave permission to one of his favorite catechism students, Amelle, to become a model – not something Catholics did at the time – and incurred the ire of his fellow prelates. Fr. Gaston’s best friend from the war, Louise Phillipe, became a Communist, and Gaston was shunned because of his continued loyalty to his friend. When the hierarchy forbade clergy from going to the barbers to get a hair cut (on account of the risqué magazines kept by French barbers at the time) Gaston kept going to the barber to whom he had gone for years… and was punished by the Bishop. Finally, when Amelle, upon her mother’s death, resorted to prostitution to support herself, Father Gaston arranged for her out-of-wedlock baby to be taken in by a local convent, further isolating him from his peers. Continue reading →
Sermon for Sunday, June 19, 2016
The text for the homily this morning is not so much today’s gospel text itself as it is the text around today’s gospel text. In particular, Jesus’ rhythm of mission and prayer – Jesus going out on mission, then withdrawing to deserted places to pray – that Luke set up three chapters earlier, in chapter 5:
Many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray. – Luke 5:15b-16
The context of today’s gospel is Jesus’ rhythm of going out on mission and then withdrawing to deserted places to pray; Jesus’ mission leads to prayer, Jesus’ prayer leads to mission. Mission and prayer is the rhythm of Jesus’ ministry in Luke.
But I don’t want to begin there. I want to begin rather with President George W. Bush’s “faith-based initiatives.” Continue reading →
Spirit-filled evangelizers are evangelizers who pray and work. Mystical notions without a solid social and missionary outreach are of no help to evangelization, nor are dissertations or social or pastoral practices which lack a spirituality which can change hearts. These unilateral and incomplete proposals only reach a few groups and prove incapable of radiating beyond them because they curtail the Gospel. What is needed is the ability to cultivate an interior space which can give a Christian meaning to commitment and activity. Without prolonged moments of adoration, of prayerful encounter with the word, of sincere conversation with the Lord, our work easily becomes meaningless; we lose energy as a result of weariness and difficulties, and our fervor dies out. The Church urgently needs the deep breath of prayer, and to my great joy, groups devoted to prayer and intercession, the prayerful reading of God’s word and the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist are growing at every level of ecclesial life. Even so, we must reject the temptation to offer a privatized and individualistic spirituality which ill accords with the demands of charity, to say nothing of the implications of the incarnation. There is always the risk that some moments of prayer can become an excuse for not offering one’s life in mission; a privatized lifestyle can lead Christians to take refuge in some false forms of spirituality.
— From The Joy of the Gospel by Pope Francis (b. 1936)
Because we moderns are so far in time and place from the language, culture, and history of Jesus’ first-century CE world, we may often fail to grasp the truly breathtaking quality of many of the events related in the Gospels. This morning’s reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke is just such an instance of what we can only describe today as an episode of profound “cultural dissonance.” According to Saint Luke, in this morning’s encounter between Jesus, the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth, and the Centurion, a regional leader of Rome’s brutal occupation of west Asia, we are witnessing a truly radical departure from ordinary and expected social arrangements in the fishing village of Galilee’s Kafar Naum.
Remember that the Galilee region of this morning’s Gospel has, by Jesus’ life and times, already seen several bloody uprisings against the Roman occupation of “Eretz Yisrael.” And although the Galilee had significant exposure to the Greek language and culture of its Greco-Roman world, the Jews of that part of the “Land of Israel”—including Jesus—were much more conservative and religiously observant than their brethren in Judea and Jerusalem. And they were also far more hostile to Roman tyranny over them. In fact, the Jews and the Romans of Galilee—the “people of God” and the “goyim,” the “nations”—were more hostile to one another there than probably anywhere else in the entire Roman Empire at the time. So, when a Centurion, the commander of an occupying Roman legion, makes a cautious plea on behalf of a valued slave—probably a Jew—to the itinerant rabbi from Nazareth with a reputation for the power to heal, we are witnessing a complete and utter reversal of social roles and the status quo: In first-century Galilee, Roman officers did not seek the patronage and assistance of Jews. But Jews, on the other hand, were entirely beholden to their Roman masters. Continue reading →