Wednesday, April 25, 2007

25/04/07 Wed, week of 3rd Sunday of Easter


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Blessed are those for whom Easter is...
not a hunt, but a find;
not a greeting, but a proclamation;
not outward fashions, but inward grace;
not a day, but an eternity.


O God, whose blessed Son made himself known to his disciples in the breaking of bread: Open the eyes of our faith, that we may behold him in all his redeeming work; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Today's Scripture

AM Psalm 38; PM Psalm 119:25-48
Dan. 5:1-12; 1 John 5:1-12; Luke 4:38-44

From Forward Day by Day:

Ephesians 4:7-8,11-16. The gifts he gave...for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.

Some years ago when serving on a vestry, we were feeling a bit adrift. Someone said we should go around the table and tell why we had chosen this particular church. I rolled my eyes. There were 20 people present, and the meeting had already gone on for an hour.

One man talked about his terror when his young wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and all the ways church members had cared for his family, spiritually and physically: casseroles left on their doorstep, notes that said "I'm praying," the people who took care of their kids so he could go with her to chemotherapy. A decade had passed, yet he still got teary telling how he learned firsthand about ministry. So it went. Every story touched my heart. I was rocked by the depth of faith in that room.

Then a friend spoke. She had "married" into the church; I thought she would talk about that. Instead, she said simply, "I am here because, so often, God speaks to me in the voices of my friends."

You can't be a Christian for long without realizing that God intervenes regularly in our lives, and that he often uses the people around us to do it--and us, to help them.

Today we remember:

St. Mark
AM: Psalm 145; Ecclus. 2:1-11; Acts 12:25-13:3
PM: Psalm 67, 96; Isaiah 62:6-12; 2 Tim. 4:1-11

Almighty God, who by the hand of Mark the evangelist have given to your Church the Gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God: We thank you for this witness, and pray that we may be firmly grounded in its truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

Today in the Anglican Cycle of Prayer we pray for the Diocese of Nicaragua (Central America)
++++++++++ Reflections

For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and faith.
St. Therese of the Child Jesus
Story of a Soul.

Reading from the Desert Christians

Why the Desert Christians are important to us today:

In the fourth century, an intensive experiment in Christian living began to flourish in Egypt, Syria and Palestine. It was something new in Christian experience, uniting the ancient forms of monastic life with the Gospel. In Egypt the movement was soon so popular that both the civil authorities and the monks themselves became anxious: the officials of the Empire because so many were following a way of life that excluded both military service and the payment of taxes, and the monks because the number of interested tourists threatened their solitude.

The first Christian monks tried every kind of experiment with the way they lived and prayed, but there were three main forms of monastic life: in Lower Egypt there were hermits who lived alone; in Upper Egypt there were monks and nuns living in communities; and in Nitria and Scetis there were those who lived solitary lives but in groups of three or four, often as disciples of a master. For the most part they were simple men, peasants from the villages by the Nile, though a few, like Arsenius and Evagrius, were well educated. Visitors who were impressed and moved by the life of the monks imitated their way of life as far as they could, and also provided a literature that explained and analyzed this way of life for those outside it. However, the primary written accounts of the monks of Egypt are not these, but records of their words and actions by their close disciples.

Often, the first thing that struck those who heard about the Desert Fathers was the negative aspect of their lives. They were people who did without: not much sleep, no baths, poor food, little company, ragged clothes, hard work, no leisure, absolutely no sex, and even, in some places, no church either - a dramatic contrast of immediate interest to those who lived out the Gospel differently.

But to read their own writings is to form a rather different opinion. The literature produced among the monks themselves is not very sophisticated; it comes from the desert, from the place where the amenities of civilization were at their lowest point anyway, where there was nothing to mark a contrast in lifestyles; and the emphasis is less on what was lacking and more on what was present. The outsider saw the negations; disciples who encountered the monks through their own words and actions found indeed great austerity and poverty, but it was neither unbelievable nor complicated. These were simple, practical men, not given either to mysticism or to theology, living by the Word of God, the love of the brethren and of all creation, waiting for the coming of the Kingdom with eager expectation, using each moment as a step in their pilgrimage of the heart towards Christ.

It was because of this positive desire for the Kingdom of heaven which came to dominate their whole lives that they went without things: they kept silence, for instance, not because of a proud and austere preference for aloneness but because they were learning to listen to something more interesting than the talk of men, that is, the Word of God. These men were rebels, the ones who broke the rules of the world which say that property and goods are essential for life, that the one who accepts the direction of another is not free, that no one can be fully human without sex and domesticity. Their name itself, anchorite, means rule-breaker, the one who does not fulfill his public duties. In the solitude of the desert they found themselves able to live in a way that was hard but simple, as children of God.

The literature they have left behind is full of a good, perceptive wisdom, from a clear, unassuming angle. They did not write much; most of them remained illiterate; but they asked each other for a "word", that is, to say something in which they would recognize the Word of God, which gives life to the soul. It is not a literature of words that analyze and sort out personal worries or solve theological problems; nor is it a mystical literature concerned to present prayers and praise to God in a direct line of vision; rather, it is oblique, unformed, occasional, like sunlight glancing off a rare oasis in the sands.

These life-giving "words" were collected and eventually written down by disciples of the first monks, and grouped together in various ways, sometimes under the names of the monks with whom they were connected sometimes under headings which were themes of special interest, such as "solitude and stability", "obedience", or "warfare that lust arouses in us". Mixed in with these sayings were short stories about the actions of the monks, since what they did was often as revealing as what they said. These collections of "apophthegmata" were not meant as a dead archaism, full of nostalgia for a lost past, but as a direct transmission of practical wisdom and experience for the use of the reader. Thus it is as part of tradition that this small selection has been made from some of the famous collections of desert material, most of which have been translated and published in full elsewhere. They are placed in pairs, so that a "word" faces a story and illustrates its central, though not its only meaning. Each saying-and-story pair has been given a heading; these are arranged in two series, the first part relating to the commandment to love one's neighbour, the second to the commandment to love God.

This material first appeared among uneducated laymen; it is not "churchy" or specifically religious. It has its roots in that life in Christ which is common to all the baptized, some of whom lived this out as monks, others who did not. There is common a universal appeal in these sayings, in spite of much which is at first strange. I have not tried to eliminate all the strangeness of the material, but to present a very small part of it as it is, in the belief that the words and deeds of these men can still make the fountain of life spring up in the arid deserts of lives in the twentieth century as they did in the fourth. "Fear not this goodness", said abba Antony, "as a thing impossible, nor the pursuit of it as something alien, set a great way off; it hangs on our own choice. For the sake of Greek learning, men go overseas. But the City of God has its foundations in every seat of human habitation. The kingdom of God is within. The goodness that is in us asks only the human mind."

--Benedicta Ward - Oxford

The editor has retained the words "abba" and "amma" which are used in these texts for addressing and describing certain men and women of the desert; "abba" is a term of respect, and to translate it by "abbot" would be misleading.

Sayings of the Jewish Fathers (Pirqe Aboth)

R. Ishma'el said, He that refrains himself from judgment, frees himself from enmity, and rapine, and false swearing; and he that is arrogant in decision is foolish, wicked, and puffed up in spirit.

He used to say, Judge not alone, for none may judge alone save One; and say not, Accept ye my opinion, for they are free-to-choose, and not thou.

Daily Meditation (Henri Nouwen)

The Answer to Our Questions

We spend a lot of time and energy raising questions. Is it worth it? It is always good to ask ourselves why we raise a question. Do we want to get useful information? Do we want to show that someone else is wrong? Do we want to conquer knowledge? Do we want to grow in wisdom? Do we want to find a way to sanctity?

When we ponder these questions before asking our questions, we may discover that we need less time and energy for our questions. Perhaps we already have the information. Perhaps we don't need to show that someone is wrong. For many questions we may learn that we already have the answers, at least if we listen carefully to our own hearts.

From the Principles of the Third Society of St. Francis:

Day Twenty Five - The Second Note -


Jesus said, "I give you a new commandment: love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35) Love is the distinguishing feature of all true disciples of Christ who wish to dedicate themselves to him as his servants.

Upper Room Daily Reflection

ULTIMATELY, lamentation leads to a greater, healing closeness in the divine-human bond. The cause of sorrow may not recede. The trial that evoked the cry may not end. The cry itself may yield no pathway of escape from harsh reality, nor should it be expected to. Lamentations come always from the lips of those who face the harshness, not from those trying to turn away. Still, as the cry pours forth, it opens wide the spirit of the one who issues it. And in this opening the greater closeness grows.

- Stephen Doughty
To Walk in Integrity

From pages 89-90 of To Walk in Integrity by Stephen Doughty. Copyright © 2004 by Stephen Doughty.


Richard Rohr's Daily Reflection

"The Catholic Worldview: Process"

On the walls of our Catholic churches we have fourteen stations. That's good process theology. It's movement, stages and phases: First this has to happen, then you have to go through that; you have to remain on the path in all its stages and relationships. The path itself will be you teacher. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wasn't the first to discover the stages of grief and dying. The way of the cross did, and it was inside of every Catholic church. The Franciscans start it, in fact. We said there is going to be an experience of condemnation in your life, an experience of judgment, an experience of betrayal. There's going to be a time where you'll finally have to do his will, not your own. When you try to do it, you're going to fall at least three times. Probably a lot more than that. But God is going to give you people like Simon of Cyrene, Veronica, Mary and the weeping daughters of Jerusalem. God is going to give you friends who will support you. That's process theology. It's not the static theology some of us unfortunately grew up with, the game of: mortal sin, I'm out; go to confession, I'm in. Push-button theology is very different from healthy, rich Catholicism.

from Why Be Catholic?


From John E. Rotelle, O.S.A., Tradition Day by Day: Readings from Church Writers. Augustinian Press. Villanova, PA, 1994.

Mark, the evangelist

In case you might think that the apostles were capable of preaching the gospel everywhere by their own powers, the evangelist mentions the essential element when he adds, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that accompanied it. The Lord confirmed the preaching of the apostles by the signs that accompanied it, when he showed through them such signs and wonders that no one beholding the marvels could doubt that their teaching came from God. Indeed, he performed such signs through them that even some of those who persecuted and opposed them were touched with remorse and believed. So where one was raised from physical death, many were raised from spiritual death, and where one was healed in body, many were healed in soul.

The apostles themselves confirmed their message with God's assistance by first practicing what they preached. Teachers confirm what they say by first doing themselves what they teach others to do, following the example of that good teacher of whom it is written: Jesus began to act and to teach.

Haymo of Halberstadt, (778 - 853) became abbot of Hersfeld and later bishop of Halberstadt. He wrote treatises on various subjects and commentaries on the books of the bible.

Daily Readings From "My Utmost for His Highest", Oswald Chambers


Be instant in season, out of season." 2 Timothy 4:2

Many of us suffer from the morbid tendency to be instant "out of season." The season does not refer to time, but to us - 'Be instant in season, out of season," whether we feel like it or not. If we do only what we feel inclined to do, some of us would do nothing for ever and ever. There are unemployables in the spiritual domain, spiritually decrepit people, who refuse to do anything unless they are supernaturally inspired. The proof that we are rightly related to God is that we do our best whether we feel inspired or not.

One of the great snares of the Christian worker is to make a fetish of his rare moments. When the Spirit of God gives you a time of inspiration and insight, you say - "Now I will always be like this for God." No, you will not, God will take care you are not. Those times are the gift of God entirely. You cannot give them to yourself when you choose. If you say you will only be at your best, you become an intolerable drag on God; you will never do anything unless God keeps you consciously inspired. If you make a god of your best moments, you will find that God will fade out of your life and never come back until you do the duty that lies nearest, and have learned not to make a fetish of your rare moments.

G. K. Chesterton Day by Day


THE only thing still old-fashioned enough to reject miracles is the New Theology.


Today's reading from the Rule of St. Benedict

Chapter 67: On Brethren Who Are Sent on a Journey

Let the brethren who are sent on a journey
commend themselves
to the prayers of all the brethren and of the Abbot;
and always at the last prayer of the Work of God
let a commemoration be made of all absent brethren.

When brethren return from a journey,
at the end of each canonical Hour of the Work of God
on the day they return,
let them lie prostrate on the floor of the oratory
and beg the prayers of all
on account of any faults
that may have surprised them on the road,
through the seeing or hearing of something evil,
or through idle talk.
And let no one presume to tell another
whatever he may have seen or heard outside of the monastery,
because this causes very great harm.
But if anyone presumes to do so,
let him undergo the punishment of the Rule.
And let him be punished likewise who would presume
to leave the enclosure of the monastery
and go anywhere or do anything, however small,
without an order from the Abbot.


The desert monastic, Samartus, had written in a culture that called material things evil and only spiritual things good: "If we do not flee from everything, we make sin inevitable." This fear of things outside the monastery was clearly still alive in the time of Benedict and well beyond. Monastics who traveled outside, then,--and they did, as we do, for reasons of business and personal need-- were reminded in this paragraph to call themselves consciously into the presence of God and the purpose of their lives before leaving their monasteries. Two things in particular make the paragraph valuable today. In the first place, however they saw the risks of the world in which they lived, they continued to confront them. They did not become less human in their search for the spiritual life. In the second place, however they counted their own commitment, they did not underestimate the lure of lesser things in life, even on them. They begged the prayers of the community while they were away, a practice which is continued to this day, and they kept as close as possible to the prayer schedule of the monastery while they were gone. Then, when the trip was over, they returned to their monasteries alert to the effects of the baubles and bangles of loose living. And they redoubled their efforts at monastic life. They started over again, prostrating themselves on the floor of the oratory as they had at the time of their profession praying to be reconcentrated on the real meaning of life.

The value of the chapter is clear even today: No one lives in a tax-free world. Life costs. The values and kitsch and superficiality of it takes its toll on all of us. No one walks through life unscathed. It calls to us for our hearts and our minds and our very souls. It calls to us to take life consciously, to put each trip, each turn of the motor, each trek to work in God's hands. Then, whatever happens there, we must remember to start over and start over and start over until, someday, we control life more than it controls us.

A Zen story tells of two monks walking down a muddy, rain-logged road on the way back to their monastery after a morning of begging who saw a beautiful young girl standing beside a large deep puddle unable to get across without ruining her clothes. The first monk, seeing the situation, offered to carry the girl to the other side, though monks had nothing whatsoever to do with women. The second monk was astonished by the act but said nothing about it for hours. Finally, at the end of the day, he said to his companion, "I want to talk to you about that girl." And the first monk said, "Dear brother, are you still carrying that girl. I put her down hours ago."

The things we ruminate on, the things we insist on carrying in our minds and heart, the things we refuse to put down, the Rule warns us, are really the things that poison us and erode our souls. We dull our senses with television and wonder why we cannot see the beauty that is around us. We hold on to things outside of us instead of concentrating on what is within that keeps us noisy and agitated. We run from experience to experience like children in a candy store and wonder how serenity has eluded us. It is walking through life with a relaxed grasp and a focused eye that gets us to where we're going. Dwelling on unessentials and, worse, filling the minds of others with them distracts from the great theme of our lives. We must learn to distinguish between what is real and what is not.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007 Christ is Risen!
The Holy Apostle and Evangelist Mark
13th Paschal Vigil: Isaiah 63:11-64:5 Apostle: Acts
Gospel: St. John 6:35-39

A Resurrection Icon: Isaiah 63:11-64:5 LXX, especially vs. 11: "Where is
He that brought them up from the sea the Shepherd of the sheep? Where
is He that put His Holy Spirit in them?" This passage from Isaiah
rehearses a group of burning questions that deeply troubled the great
Prophet of God. At the same time, it presents to every pious Christian
a joyous and prophetic icon of the Resurrection. The Prophet Isaiah
asks God how He, Who had "led Moses with His right hand, and the arm of
His glory" (vs. 12), could have allowed His chosen People to fall so
low: "where is Thy zeal and Thy strength? where is the abundance of Thy
mercy, and of Thy compassions, that Thou hast withheld Thyself from
us?...Why hast Thou caused us to err, O Lord, from Thy way? and hast
hardened our hearts, that we should not fear Thee?" (vss. 15,17).

While these opening verses find Isaiah questioning how God could have
abandoned His own People (vss. 63:11-17), still, the Prophet does not
refrain from begging the Lord to "return for Thy servants' sake, for the
sake of the tribes of Thine inheritance, that we may inherit a small
part of Thy holy mountain" (vss. 63:17-18). Then, with irony, as if to
remind the Lord, the Prophet mentions that God is fully able to act as
He did of old. Thus, if He should choose to "open the heavens" and come
among His people, then "trembling will take hold upon the mountains"
(64:1). In the end, Isaiah admits, yes, "we have sinned; therefore we
have erred" (vs. 64:5), but he adds, we believe that "Thou wilt perform
to them that wait for mercy," for "from of old we have not heard,
neither have our eyes seen a God beside Thee" (vs. 64:4).

The Holy Fathers observed that the questions which burned in the heart
of Isaiah the Prophet were fully answered by the coming of Christ.
Listen, for example, to Theodoret of Cyrus: "The prophetic
making mention of the event that was the crossing of the Sea: foreseeing
that they [ancient Israel, would] be deprived of the divine
solicitude...according to the prediction," that God would "forsake [His]
vineyard" (Is. 5:6).

However, says Theodoret, the questions raised should lead the Faithful
in Christ to realize that "just as the people, pursued by Pharaoh and
the Egyptians, passed through the sea under the leadership of Moses, in
the same way, when the devil and the demons were waging war, Christ our
Master broke the gates of death, passed over them Himself, and is now
leading human nature to freedom. Hence," Theodoret continues, "the
divine Apostle applies these words to Christ: 'He Who brought up from
the earth the Great Shepherd of the sheep'" (Heb. 13:20), and he urges
those united to Christ to perceive that Moses himself was the servant
and the type, and that now has come the Lord Jesus, "the true 'shepherd
Who gave His life for the sheep'" (Jn.10:11).

Take note that the questions of Isaiah are answered for the Faithful if
we will perceive that they form a verbal icon of the Resurrection:
"Where is He that brought them up from the sea [of the grave]?"(vs.
11). Christ Jesus, the Shepherd, is risen from the dead. "Where is He
that put His Holy Spirit in them?" (vs. 11). We answer, "Christ is
among us; He is and He shall be," baptizing His own with water and the
Holy Spirit. "He forced the water [of death] to separate from before
Him" (vs. 12). "He [leads His own] through the deep...and they [faint]
not" (vs. 13).

In the Pentecostal fire, "the Spirit came down from the Lord" [to guide
us] (vs. 14). Thus, the Lord is leading His people and making for
Himself "a glorious Name" (vs. 14). God Incarnate reveals His "zeal
and strength" (vs. 15). He shows us "the abundance of [His] mercy and
of [His] compassion, not withholding Himself from us!" (vs. 15).

Let God arise, and let His enemies be scattered; and let them who hate
Him flee from before His face. Today a sacred Pascha is revealed to us:
Pascha which is Christ the Redeemer.

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