Sunday, June 10, 2012

Corpus Christi and the CBS

A blessed feast of Corpus Christi to all! Today, (much) of the Western Church celebrates the mysterious grace of Christ's presence in the Eucharist. Today, I am also celebrating being inducted into the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, the Anglican Devotional Society which seeks to promote the honor due to Christ in this sacrament. I will be inducted at Solemn Evensong and Benediction this evening, at St. Paul's K Street in Washington, DC.
I want to post some reflections on the Eucharist and Christian life today, especially in relation to social justice issues, in honor of the feast. Perhaps later this evening after evensong.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The End of the Year and the Beginning of the Summer

I feel like my blog didn't take off until last Summer really, when I began my internship in New Mexico. Well this year, I have completed my residential training at Trinity, and will be finishing my Seminary education by distance this Fall. I will be spending Summer in DC doing CPE at Washington Hospital Center. For those who don't know, CPE stands for Clinical Pastoral Education, essentially an internship as a Chaplain at a hospital, prison, or hospice which many denominations, including TEC require of their postulants for ordination. I arrived in DC last Friday, and begin my internship next Monday. I am very excited, and more than a little nervous, so your prayers, gentle readers, are coveted. As last year was a particularly productive and spiritually fruitful time for me, I expect this year will be as well - especially since I will be near several dear friends, including Amy Moffitt, the wonderful author of Without a Map and Joshua Gonnerman, a good friend who has garnered some attention recently with this article and its companion piece here.

The next two weeks or so will probably be quiet, but after that, do look for posts and reflections as I begin to dive into more active ministry.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

I Love My Seminary

Here is Dr. Don Collett, assistent professor of Old Testament at Trinity, preaching at the Baccalaureate Mass from two weeks ago. Dr. Collett has been one of the two or three professors who have influenced me the most in the last few years at seminary, and he has helped me develop and deep and abiding love for the Old Testament. The Bible faculty at Trinity is really excellent, and probably our strongest point as an academic community. In addition, we have been granted the blessing of having Biblical scholars who are also really exceptional pastors and models of the Christian life on faculty, as well as having really wonderful academic gifts. Dr. Collett also has exceptionally good taste in single malt scotch ;-)

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Joss Whedon's (almost) Augustinian Moral Imagination

I am a huge Joss Whedon fan. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel are probably my favorite TV showes of all time, and I am reasonably certain that at the end of time, the Divine Liturgy will resume where it left off in Hagia Sophia at the time of the Turkish invasion, and be followed by a showing of the rest of Firefly (and, of course, season 4 of Arrested Development).

So, of course, I had to see The Avengers, written and directed by Mr. Whedon. I am also planning to see Cabin in the Woods, despite a distaste for horror films. Now that the semester is over, and I am don't have final papers hanging over my head, I have a little time to reflect on the film, and give a few thoughts on its moral and, yes, even theological themes.

The Avengers is probably the best comic book movie since the Dark Knight. It's well written, with snappy dialogue and great pacing, that keeps the dramatic tension high. One of the more impressive aspects of the film is how well the incredibly large cast of superheroes are balanced. It would have been very easy for the film to become fragmented, with each character having their own sub-plot, leaving little time for the main action. Think, for example, of the clumsy execution of the Fantastic Four movie with its two dimensional characters that each took up far too much screen time. Each of the Avengers, however, was a relatively well rounded, believable character, because each was given the space to develop through the course of the plot and through their interactions with each other. Whedon has a knack for this kind of group character development.

Like all of Whedon's stories, Avengers has a strong moral element to it. That's not to say it's a preachy film. This is a comic book movie, and wisely doesn't try to be more; but comic books, at least of the super-hero variety, are inherantly moral. Comic books assume a world where moral conflict makes sense, where there are good guys and bad guys. Of course, there have been plenty of bleak, super hero comics, like Alan Moore's V for Vendetta or Watchmen, but those books are precisely subversive attempts to deconstruct the whole mythos of the super-hero. Avengers isn't that sort of comic book movie. It's just a really, really well executed super-hero flick.

While his characters are complex and conflicted, often with major moral flaws, an overview of his stories shows that Whedon still believes in heroes. Behind all the winking post-modern ironies of Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Angel, the title characters of those shows are still champions of virtue. Which is why Whedon is the perfect person to make the ultimate Marvel comic book movie. He has enough sympathy with the moral world of comic books that he can make a movie that is unapologetically entertaining, unapologetically a comic book movie, and not trying to be anything else, while still packing in a bit of moral reflection on power and violence. And of course, we have Marvel and Stan Lee to thank for giving us complex, coflicted super-heroes, another thing Whedon is good at.

One of the most striking moments in the movie is what seems to be Captain America's throw away line, when he is warned not to try to fight with Thor and Loki, the Norse god's (who are in fact extremely powerful aliens in the Marvel universe). Captain America declares that "There's only one God..."
Some people have made rather a big deal about this line, because as much as its a throw away, I think it actually gets at a central moral question in the plot. Loki claims to be a god, and demands worship, but he demands it purely on the basis of power, thus raising the question, is it power alone that deserves worship? Or put more biblically, Whedon is saying "choose this day whom you shall serve."

This discussion is given a little more context with a scene that occurs after Loki has appeared with a show of power in Germany, and demands that a crowd bow before him, because, as he explains, human beings need a master. Freedom is too much for us. An old man in the crowd stands up and says "Not to a man like you."
Loki replies "There are no men like me."
"There will always be men like you." The old man responds.

Here the question is put quite blatantly: what kind of god deserves our worship? who will we bow before?
But again, apart from one passing reference from Captain America, we have no answer. What the film seems to say is that power alone is not enough. Might doesn't make right, and just because one man happens to hold all the power doesn't make him a god. This is another staple Whedon theme.

Whedon's heroes are all outcasts and underdogs, and he has a marked distrust of any sort of power structure. In this, I think he has an affinity with C.S. Lewis, who portrayed Hell as a particularly dreary bureaucratic office in The Screwtape Letters. If you are familiar with Whedon's other projects think of Wolfram and Hart, the literally demonic law firm in Angel, the Alliance in Firefly, or the Watchers council in Buffy, which is bungling and arrogant at best. Evil, in Whedon's universe generally comes in a corporate guise, and I think that is partly because he understands that evil is ultimately a depersonalizing force, something that eats away at the soul and makes a person into a dull, sad, cog in a machine. Evil is not fun, exciting or vital; it is a disappointing emptiness, the opposite of vital. In this, Joss Whedon is a good Augustinian.

The unfortunate thing is that he does not seem to have a corresponding grasp of the Good. Joss Whedon's worlds are all very moral, but there does not seem to be a clear moral center of gravity to them. In fact one of the marked weaknesses of all of Whedon's story telling is the way in which he handles religion. Religious characters are rarely portrayed well, and when they are, they are still somewhat comical, like Shepherd Book in Firefly (although the character showed signs of interesting developments had the show not been cancelled. Sigh...). The religious/ spiritual world of the Buffyverse, is a good example. There are plenty of powers and even 'gods' who mess about with the workings of the world, but in Whedon's storytelling Christian images coexist side by side with neo-Pagan style witchcraft. The spiritual world of Buffy is a post-modern, pluralistic smorgasbord, and there seems to be no one power, let alone a benevolent power, that wins out. This comes across particularly in the final episode of Angel, which concludes with a heroic last stand against Wolfram and Hart's diabolical "Senior Partners," that is heroic and noble, but ultimately there is no assurance of victory.

So where does that leave us? Where do we look for a moral center, according to Whedon's view of things? I think it is no coincidence that we hear a Christian proclamation from Captain America, a character who, having only recently been thawed out from a cryogenic sleep, is a throw back to an earlier age. There are at least two ways I think we could take this. Perhaps Whedon is looking back with a kind of nostalgia on an innocent faith that we could all hold once upon a time, but which is forever lost now. We can't go back to Captain America's old fashioned American values, of which Christian monotheism is a part. On the other hand, maybe Whedon is suggesting that it is precisely in looking to our past that we will find an answer.

In another scene Captain America is given his new uniform, which looks really rather a lot like his old uniform. He asks whether the Stars and Stripes aren't a little old fashioned. "With everything that’s happening, things about to come to light," the designer of the uniform says “people might need a little 'old fashioned.'" I don't want to attribute too much philosophizing to Whedon - he is first of all a story teller, after all, and a first rate one - but I think there is a hint of suggestion that the answer to post-modernity's moral disorientation lies in returning to the past, and even to tradition.

True, we cannot simply go back, and we cannot simply reclaim God as another American value along with Mom and Apple Pie. Perhaps though, we can come to what philosopher Paul Ricoeur famously calls the 'Second Naivete;' The point when we have passed beyond mere criticism of our formerly naive beliefs in God, religion or morality, gotten past the phase of being rebellious adolescents, and we can reclaim our old faith in a new, more mature way. Joss Whedon does not tell us what kind of God to worship, but I think perhaps he points us in a direction, and that direction seems to be toward the God of the Christian Tradition.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Spiritual Friendship

My internet (and sometimes real life!) friends Ron Belgau and Wesley Hill have started a new blog under the title of Spiritual Friendship.  Ron and Wesley are both doctoral students, Ron in philosophy and Wesley in Biblical studies, and both men are also celibate, gay Christians, committed to the traditional Christian sexual ethic. 

Here is how they describe their new blog. 
We embrace the traditional understanding that God created us male and female, and that His plan for sexual intimacy is only properly fulfilled in the union of husband and wife in marriage. However, this blog was born out of frustration with the prevailing narratives about homosexuality from those who embrace this traditionally Christian sexual ethic: an excessive focus on political issues, and the ubiquity of reparative therapy in one form or another.
We want to see more discussion of celibacy, friendship, the value of the single life, and similar topics.
I have gained a lot from the work both these guys are doing, and I think their project is very important for the whole Church, not just those who have homosexual desires.  Recovering a robust theology of friendship and of celibacy is an important part of responding to many of the problems our culture has with understanding love and sex. 
They are also providing a valuable service to the Church by pointing out the genuine homophobia that exists in so many Christian responses to gay people.
I also highly recommend Wesley Hill's book, Washed and Waiting: Reflections on Christian Faithfulnes and Homosexuality.  I think this may be the best book out there on the topic right now.

Friday, April 6, 2012

A Shameless Plug

April is National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo). You may have heard of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), where participants write - at least attempt to write - a novel over the month of November. Well, NaPoWriMo is the same basic idea, except participants write a poem a day, every day for the month of April. I first heard about it through the poetic postings of Miss Amy Moffitt, the wonderful author of Without a Map, when she did NaPoWriMo last year. I have been looking forward to this April all year, in the hopes that she would begin posting poetry again.

Well, she has not disappointed my hopes - she has posted everyday so far, and there are already some gems. If you are not doing so already, I highly recommend that you follow her poetry as she posts this month. The first poem, which I especially like, is here. Get thee hence!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Catching Up After Two Weeks (or, Unsystematic Thoughts on Rowan Williams)

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It's been a while since I posted. But it has been an eventful time in the Christian world, and I felt the need to check in and add my comments to the mix. In the past few weeks, Pope Shenouda of the Coptic Church passed away, and Archbishop Rowan Williams announced his resignation.
Quite a shake up for the international Christian world. And it is already Holy Week.
Pope Shenouda was a good friend to Anglicans, and a real champion of the gospel from everything I know about him, and he will be sorely missed.
Closer to home, I admit I am sad to see Rowan go. He is not well liked by most of my fellow conservatives, but I am rather fond of him. For all his faults, he is a serious theologian and scholar, and seems to be a man of deep personal faith. He is not, despite the claims of many, a "liberal" and he really worked to try to keep everyone together in the current mess that is the Anglican Communion. Yes, he is liberal on sexual ethics, but he has never said anything that suggests he doubts the truth of the creed or the gospel, and he has never tried to impose his views on the church. He takes his responsibilities as Archbishop very seriously, and understands that we must seek the mind of the Church and consensus before moving forward. He is, in other words, willing to submit his judgments to the wider Church. Besides which, despite my avowed conservatism on the whole same sex marriage debate in Anglicanism, I am not convinced that it has the earth shattering importance that many conservative Anglicans give it. At some point, perhaps I should explain my views, but not today.
On top of all this, Archbishop Williams is very respected by leaders of other Christian groups, such as Pope Benedict XVI and many Eastern Orthodox Christians. It was a historic moment when he delivered a sermon, in the Vatican, before the Pope himself. I am not certain, but I believe this was a first since at least the time of the Reformation. The vitriol poured on Williams has been mostly from within Anglicanism, by people on both sides disappointed that Williams did not toe any particular line, and did not do what he could not do - hand down a declaration from on high.
Mostly though, I am happy for Archbishop Williams. He never seemed really at ease in the chair of St. Augustine, and I think he will flourish when he is once more in an academic setting. God bless him in this endeavor. I wait with some trepidation to see who will replace the good Archbishop. I hope that it will be someone of greater political savvy, but with the same commitment to unity and reconciliation as Archbishop Williams.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Offering Mass for an intention

The Red rule of the SSC states that "The Brethren are asked to wherever possible offer Mass for the Society." Offering mass for a particular intention always seemed highly objectionable to me. It seemed to really make the mass into a re-sacrificing of Christ, in the most objectionable way. The Eucharist, after all, is only a part of the one sacrifice of Christ, and as such it already has a purpose to which it is dedicated - the redemption of the world, and the establishment of God's new covenant people, the Church. To offer mass for a particular intention, seemed to suggest that mass is offered for the sake of getting God to grant some particular request, rather than to participate in the "Full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice" of Calvary. It seemed, in other words, to trivialize the Eucharist, and to suggest that if I offer more Eucharists, my prayer becomes more effective, as if the value of Christ's sacrifice could be magnified.

I have more recently begun to come around on this particular question, but I can't say I fully understand it. A question from a friend, gave me the opportunity to think about this in more depth, and so I thought I would share my thoughts here, and invite comments from others.

As I understand it, since the mass is traditionally understood as being one with the sacrifice of Christ offered once and for all on the cross, the mass is itself a sacrifice offered by the Church in union with Christ. Whenever a particular priest celebrates, he does so not for his community alone, but on behalf of the whole Church, the catholic Church, throughout the world, living and dead. So, through the Holy Spirit's ministry, each mass participates in the one great sacrifice of Christ on the cross which constitutes and sustains the Church. Each particular offering of the mass, through the Holy Spirit's power transcends its own particularity.

At the same time though, each mass remains somehow a particular, distinct event - in this time and this place, offered by a particular priest, on behalf of a particular congregation, and a presbyter does not stand apart from the needs, sorrows and joys of his particular community. So, while the Mass is already an all encompassing sacrifice, sustaining the life of the universal Church, and is offered "for the life of the world" as Fr. Alexander Schmemann put it quoting John's gospel, a particular priest offers up the mass to God on behalf of the his own congregation. A priest does not offer the mass on behalf of a nebulous, "Universal Church" but on behalf of the catholic Church in this place, at this time.

While of course the mass is for the whole Church, each priest has a special care for his own community, and a special duty to bring their prayers and needs before God. That, in a sense, is the essence of priestly vocation: to go in and out before God with the needs, thanksgivings and prayers of the people. This is what all of us are called to do in the priesthood of all believers, but the presbyter is specially called to represent that vocation, in the midst of the congregation. This ministry is most fully and manifestly exercised when he offers the holy sacrifice, and so that is also the most appropriate context in which to bring the people's prayers before God. Because while the mass is, as I have put it, universal, and transcends the particular, sustaining the whole Church catholic, it also sustains and gives life to each particular community, precisely as a particular community. In an incarnational and catholic ecclesiology, the particular and the universal are not opposed, but contained within each other, admittedly somewhat mysteriously. For this understanding of catholicity, I am drawing on the thought of Met. John Zizioulas and Archbishop Michael Ramsey.

That, as I understand it, is what it means to offer mass on behalf of a particular intention. Where I see a danger in the practice, is when it eclipses the universality and completeness of Christ's sacrifice, and of the mass itself. I think this is what happened in the middle ages, when you got abuses like priests who earned a stipend doing nothing but offering mass for the soul of some dead nobleman. This turns the mass into some kind of magic, as if offering more masses, more often, would somehow convince God to answer prayers, rather than trusting in the one atoning sacrifice of Christ.

However, I think that if it is kept in proper perspective, it is thoroughly appropriate for a priest to bring the needs of the people before God, in the context of the mass, joining their prayers to those of the whole Church. In addition, I would say it is important that we not let sacrificial imagery become the only language we use to describe the Eucharist. The Eucharist is also a meal, a foretaste of the wedding feast of the lamb, where Christ is the host. St. Paul uses this meal imagery to great effect in 1 Cor. 10-11. Because the Eucharist is a true mystery, we need all the metaphors and analogies we have at our disposal from Scripture and the tradition as we seek to understand and articulate it. Those are my thoughts, hope they are helpful, or at least interesting. Let me know if anything sounds off or crazy in them. I am no expert, and that is just where I have come to in my own musings on the subject.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Wisdom, let us attend.

I ran across this on an Orthodox website, but I think that it has much broader implications for converts to various churches. I really love this, and think there is a lot of wisdom in it.

Letter to a New Convert

Dear “John”,

I understand that you are on the way to becoming Orthodox. I know nothing about you, beyond the fact that you are English.

Before we go any further, there is one point I should make clear. I have not been told why you are about to convert, but I assure you there is no point whatsoever if it is for negative reasons. You will find as much “wrong” (if not more) in Orthodoxy as in the Anglican or Roman Churches.

So – the first point is, are you prepared to face lies, hypocrisy, evil and all the rest, just as much in Orthodoxy as in any other religion or denomination?

Are you expecting a kind of earthly paradise with plenty of incense and the right kind of music?

Do you expect to go straight to heaven if you cross yourself slowly, pompously and in the correct form from the right side?

Have you a cookery book with all the authentic Russian recipes for Easter festivities?

Are you an expert in kissing three times on every possible or improper occasion?

Can you prostrate elegantly without dropping a variety of stationery out of your pockets?


Have you read the Gospels?

Have you faced Christ crucified? In the spirit have you attended the Last Supper – the meaning of Holy Communion?


Are you prepared, in all humility, to understand that you will never, in this life, know beyond Faith; that Faith means accepting the Truth without proof. Faith and knowledge are the ultimate contradiction –and the ultimate absorption into each other.

Living Orthodoxy is based on paradox, which is carried on into worship – private or public.

We know because we believe and we believe because we know.

Above all, are you prepared to accept all things as from God?

If we are meant, always, to be “happy”, why the Crucifixion? Are you prepared, whatever happens, to believe that somewhere, somehow, it must make sense? That does not mean passive endurance, but it means constant vigilance, listening, for what is demanded; and above all, Love.

Poor, old, sick, to our last breath, we can love. Not sentimental nonsense so often confused with love, but the love of sacrifice – inner crucifixion of greed, envy, pride.

And never confuse love with sentimentality.

And never confuse worship with affectation.

Be humble – love, even when it is difficult. Not sentimental so called love – And do not treat church worship as a theatrical performance!

I hope that some of this makes sense,

With my best wishes,
Mother Thekla
(sometime Abbess of the Monastery of the Assumption, Normanby)

Mother Thekla wrote the above in 2009 when she was 91 years old.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Sermon on the Call of Levi in Mark 2

this sermon was preached last Friday in the Trinity Chapel. I am always nervous about posting my sermons on the blog, but I got a lot of positive responses to this one, so I figured I would put it up.
He went out again beside the sea, and all the crowd was coming to him, and he was teaching them. And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. And people came and said to him, “Why do John's disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”

(Mark 2:13-22 ESV)

By tradition, Levi the tax collector is the same person as the Evangelist Matthew, one of the twelve. But Levi was a tax collector, and as you all know tax collectors were not popular people. Pharisees didn't like them, because they associated with Gentiles and were ritually unclean; common people didn't like them because they were collaborators with an occupying government, and they were usually extortionists. So when Jesus, rather publicly called Levi to come follow him, he was doing something that would have shocked everyone watching. Jesus was not acting like a respectable Rabbi, and he was associating with someone who should have been shunned.

But he doesn't just call Levi, he calls him to a meal. Now just so you know that I have actually done some exegesis of this passage, the Greek is quite ambiguous about where this meal happened. It says "as he reclined at table in his house" and probably this means Levi's house, but, in fact, it might be Jesus house. Whoever owned the house, whoever provided the food, its clear enough that it's Jesus who is at the center of this meal. Wherever Jesus goes, he is the host - or the bridegroom as he puts it - and it is his banquet that Levi, and all the other tax collectors and sinners who are tagging along have been invited to.

And of course, in Jewish culture, eating a meal with people was a very big deal. You couldn't eat with unclean people without risking becoming unclean yourself. The Pharisees were naturally concerned to see a popular teacher like Jesus associating with this class of person, but Jesus doesn't seem to have been particularly worried. These are the people he came to call. It's interesting, in the parallel to this passage in Luke's gospel, Jesus says he came to call sinners to repentance. But here he just says "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

When Jesus called Levi, as far as I can tell from the text, Jesus does not call him first of all to repent - at least not in any obvious sense. He doesn't say, quit being a lousy tax collector, he just says, "follow me." He doesn't wait for Levi, or the other sinners to clean up their act, or get better, he just calls them to come have a meal with him. He offers them his friendship. Not because of who they are, or because they are particularly good people - they aren't - but because of who Jesus is. He is the bridegroom, and he's come to celebrate his marriage feast, and he has invited everyone.

The Pharisees got frustrated with Jesus disciples for fast, but that's because Pharisees don't understand who Jesus is, or what the kingdom of heaven is like, and they don't understand what it is like be a Levi, a sinner who knows he is a sinner, and is called anyway, to come be friends with the Lord himself.

Now most of us are doing some kind of fast during lent, so I guess the Pharisees should be happy. But I think there are two ways of fasting. The Pharisees fasted, because they wanted to be good people, to be the right sort of people, the people who kept the rules. Jesus disciples could only start fasting when the bridegroom left, and the banquet was over. We fast, not because we are trying to keep rules or because we want to be the right sort of people, but because we are living in what at Trinity we like to call the already and the not yet. The bridegroom is absent, from us, so we live in the not yet. Lent, especially, is a time when are called to remember that we are like Levi, and like all the sinners that Jesus called; that we have been called, although we are not good people, or clever people, not because of anything special about us, not because of who we are, not even because we were looking for Jesus, but because, as one of my favorite hymns puts it, "Jesus sought me when a stranger." We fast to remind ourselves that we have nothing to offer of ourselves, and that all our hope is in Jesus. Jesus didn't wait till Levi repented to be his friend, but Levi became both an Apostle and Evangelist. Levi was changed and transformed, by that invitation of Christ's "follow me."

The only reason that any of us have anything to offer the world is because we have heard that same invitation, and like Levi we have responded. Speaking only for myself, that's the only reason I have the nerve to stand up here and preach - because I'm not going to go into the laundry list of my sins, I know how sinful I am. Every time I see my name on the chapel schedule to preach, I find myself thinking "I can't preach a sermon to these people. I know that I have nothing to offer them, nothing to say to them." But I can say, "Jesus sought me when a stranger."

That is what our fast reminds us of. There's another way though, that our fast is different from the Pharisees: it is, paradoxically, a joyful fast. Because even though we live in the not yet, waiting for the wedding feast of the Lamb, we still have a foretaste of that feast. We live in the already as well as the not yet. Even in lent, we keep a sense of the Easter joy.

Christ is absent, in some sense yes, but he also promised that he is with us till the end of the age, in his Holy Spirit. And in that same Spirit, he invites us again and again, every time we celebrate the Holy Eucharist, to a share in that wedding feast which is to come. He doesn't ask us to be perfect, or to clean up our act first. He just asks us to come follow, to come taste and see that the Lord is good. St. John Chrysostom, summed up much better than I can, what I am trying to get at, in his Easter sermon. He said:

You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!

The table is rich-laden: feast royally, all of you!

Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.

Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.

Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.

Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free.

So as we go through Lent, let us be fed by that feast, and look forward to that Easter Joy. Let's remember that Jesus sought us when we were strangers, and seeks us still. Then we will have something to offer to the other sinners and tax collectors like ourselves that we meet.

+In the name of the Father...

Thursday, March 1, 2012


Well, I'm not gonna lie, it's been a rough week around these here parts. Just a lot to do, and not a lot of time in which to do it, plus a sleep cycle disrupted by various causes. However, I received a minor consolation today. A large, unexpected and weighty package arrived at my door today as I was rushing late to class. It was, I discovered, a whole stack of the current edition of the Intercession Papers of the Guild of All Souls, of which I am now a member. Thus, I have made a further small step in my slow, and highly eccentric quest to join every single Anglo-Catholic devotional society out there. The mission of the Guild is described on the website as follows.

Founded in England in 1873, the GOAS is a Prayer Guild within the worldwid

Anglican Communion which seeks to promote the Church's teaching in regard to the Faithful Departed:
• Intercessory prayer for the Dying and for the Repose of the Souls of the Departed.
• To encourage Christian customs at burials, especially the offering of the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.
• To promote the two great doctrines of the Christian Creed: "The Communion of Saints" and "The Resurrection from the Dead."

Basically, we do that by praying for the dead, as listed in the intercession papers. I actually think that the Guild has one of the more important and worthwhile ministries of all the AC devotional societies out there, because it is a genuine ministry of charity, praying for the souls of the faithful departed. Besides which, the Resurrection of the Dead is a doctrine that tends to be neglected in contemporary American Christianity, so good on the Guild for promoting it.

Also, the Guild maintains a ministry of providing requiem mass vestments to poor parishes. Since I expect to be in a poor parish one day, I am particularly grateful for this ministry.
And, since I received a whole stack of these intercession papers, I have plenty to share with friends, should you happen to be interested - also membership is free for Seminarians o{]:-)

Monday, February 27, 2012

The Lutheran Aquinas.

I recently ran across this quote from Saint Thomas on justifying grace. I think it sums up really well the catholic understanding of grace, which does not overwhelm or destroy our nature, but raises and perfects it.
God does not justify us without ourselves, because while we are being justified we consent to God’s justification by a movement of our free will. Nevertheless this movement is not the cause of grace, but the effect; hence the whole operation pertains to grace. (Summa,I-II, q. 111, a.2, ad.2)
Catholic Christianity rejects both the Pelagian idea of an autonomous will, and determinism. For Aquinas, just as much as for Luther, salvation is grace through and through, but while Luther seems (at least at times) to have believed that any human cooperation meant a diminishment of grace, Aquinas believed that the human will moved by God, could genuinely cooperate. Not to use Luther's words against him, but I think in this case "his thoughts of God were too human," and he seems to have placed God's causality on the same level as ours. I think St. Thomas helps us out of many of the knottier problems of Protestant theology on this point.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Recent Aesthetic Encounters

Two artistic projects have recently caught my attention, and I feel like sharing them with all y'all here at the blog. The first of these, is Dappled Things.
Dappled Things is a relatively new journal of Catholic art and writing including essays, poetry and short fiction. I am saving up my meager student income for a subscription, but for now much of the content is available on the website. I highly recommend it, if you have any interest in the intersection between faith and art, whether you are Catholic or not. Roman Catholics, I find, are particularly good at creating art that deals with religious themes without being "religious fiction" in the sense of thumping a heavy hand on a bible every few sentences. For an example, see any piece of fiction by Miss Flannery O'Connor; judging by the content of Dappled Things, she seems to be their unofficial patron saint, which is a good sign. I also note that their definition of what makes a piece of art "Catholic" is not at all narrow, although they ask that it engage in some way with the Catholic tradition, even if only in a very subtle way.

The second glorious artistic discovery for me has been Spark.
Spark is a collaborative effort between artists working in different media. The 15th round just finished, and the art is going up on the online gallery over the next week. Two artists, say a writer and a photographer, are randomly paired. Each sends the the other an "Inspiration piece," some work in their medium, and each takes about 10 days to come up with a response inspired by what they were sent. The idea is to stretch yourself by both the time constraint and by trying to get inspiration from a new sort of subject.

I was introduced to Spark by the Wonderful Author of Without a Map, who has been participating for a few years. Despite my intense reserve about sharing my creative work others I decided to go ahead and participate in this round and you can read my short story, inspired by a lovely photograph from Mr. Brian MacDonald, here. At some point, my inspiration piece (a poem) should also be up, with Mr. MacDonald's response. While I am not terribly happy with my story, I think it had good elements, and it was worth writing just to know I could write a piece given the constraints.
I highly encourage those creative types who happen to read the blog to think about participating in the next round of Spark!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday

ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The collect for Ash Wednesday is one of my favorites for the whole year. I long to have that secound clause written on my heart: God who hatest nothing that thou hast made...
Lent is really one of my favorite times of year, because it is, above all, a time to reflect on the mercy of God.
While it is hardly traditional, here is a little musical reflection on that theme, from one of my all time favorites, Mr. Tom Waits.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Society of the Holy Cross, take 2

Well, I am happy to say that our little chapter of the Pusey Guild has hit its second year (roughly). We had two new inductees this year. Fr. Ralph Walker, Master of the SSC in the Americas celebrated low mass this past Wednesday, and gave us many words of encouragement. My hope is that the guild will continue to grow and thrive at Trinity. It continues to be a great blessing to me.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Is the Ordinariate Anglican?

That's a question I have had on my mind ever since the Apostolic constitution appeared. I have been thinking about it again in the last couple months with the appointment of Msgr. Steenson as Ordinary in this country. Back a couple year ago I would have answered the question in the fashion of Herr Professor Barth: "NEIN!"

Having had a little time to cool down and watch the progress of my brothers and sisters in the Ordinariate, I have moderated my position significantly. I am not, and have never been, an Anglo-Papalist. I am a classical Anglo-Catholic, a Tractarian and an unapologetic Ritualist, but I believe in Episcopal and conciliar government of the Church. I do think the Pope has a special role of authority in the Church, but I do not accept the doctrines of infallibility or (even less) universal jurisdiction. Hence, my total lack of interest in the Ordinarite when it was first announced. I still have no plans to move in that direction, for the same reasons.

I have been to one Ordinariate mass so far, at St. Luke's in Bladensburg, MD, and what was amazing to me was how much I felt at home. The worst part of the service was not receiving the Eucharist, because I felt very much that these were my people, these were Anglicans and Catholics in the senses that mattered. I sensed no bitterness or anger from the congregation, or the preacher, Msgr. Keith Newton; only joy and gratitude.

Now there are a lot of reasons why you could claim that the Ordinariate is not really Anglican, but most of the criticisms I have heard come down to this: You can't be an Anglican and be in communion with the Roman Catholic Church. But if a Church defines itself by being not in communion with another church, I have to say I think it has crossed the line into being a sect. Christ's call is for unity, and a Church that has ceased pursuing unity is in grave sin and needs to repent.

There are more sophisticated theological critiques of the Ordinariate. Obviously, I don't agree with all of their theology. But I have equally strong or stronger disagreements with Anglicans in, oh, say Sydney Australia, who are officially part of the Anglican Communion. So until some one comes up with a really clear definition of Anglicanism, I think the Ordinariate is Anglican.

Sorry, readers, if this is a debate you are not part of and find boring. It's the sort of thing that comes up in my world though, so I figured I would throw my hat in the ring in defense of the Ordinariate.

Monday, February 13, 2012

(almost) Turkish Coffee

I am afraid the blog is getting a little random as I find myself occupied elsewhere. I suppose I will have to accept that for the time being, and tell my perfectionist side to take a hike. But anyway, Coffee is one of my little obsessions. I am working on getting to the point where I can roast my own coffee beans.
So here is a little recipe for Pseudo-Turkish Coffee.
Ideally, you should obtain the Special Turkish grinder, and an ibrik, the lovely little copper pot for making Turkish and Greek Coffee. If you can afford to buy these things, so much the better. I can't.
So My recipe is simple. When you grind your coffee, add one pod of Cardamom. Cardamom can be expensive, so I recommend buying it from an Indian grocery, or possibly from Penzey's Spices. I also recommend black Cardamom, which has a smoky sweet flavor that I think goes better with the coffee. Again, the only place I know to obtain Black Cardamom is Penzy's. Seriously, Penzy's is awesome.

Put the grounds in your French press, with water that is just below boiling. Then let it all steep for about four minutes. If you don't have a french press, I really, really recommend one. They make coffee that is so much better than anything you will get from an auto drip brewer.
Pour into a small cup, and add sugar and milk to taste. Extra sugar, of course, is good for "Turkish" style coffee.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

A mild protest

My Libertarian tendencies are brought out by SOPA and PIPA, so I am going ahead and noting my solidarity with Wikipedia and other sites protesting yet another abuse of power by the Federal Government.
I am a political conservative, so for some thoughts on why conservatives should opposes both these acts, have a look over at National Review here and here.