Wednesday, February 28, 2007

The true gospel...

The keeper of a public brothel is less a sinner than the preacher who does not deliver the true gospel, and the brothel is not so bad as the false preacher's church.

-Martin Luther

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Margaret of Cortona - Single Mother - Feb 22

Despite an early sordid life as mistress and unwed mother, Margaret of Cortona is commemorated today. After the death of her paramour Montepulciano, Margaret turns to her family for sanctuary for her and her son. Her father rejects her plea, and Margaret is drawn to the Franciscans who, she understands, are compassionate toward sinners. Her life with them is not an easy one. The old life does not die immediately. Three years of struggle follow as she cares for the sickly poor. Finally she experiences a religious awakening, and she lives out the second half of her fifty years making penance for the first half.

Margaret is a remedy for those who want an immediate and drastic change in one who recognizes that he or she has hit rock bottom. In conversation once a friend told me that as soon as someone recognizes the problem (addiction, greed, etc.), the problematic behavior should stop since the problem is known. Perhaps no saying is truer, "Old habits die hard." And new habits, particularly the new habits of the new life, are almost impossible to form when surrounded by the old. Once the old habits are removed, it still takes perserverance to form the new one. We find the stories of dramatic conversion and repentance to be moving and inspiring. What we need, I think, more are stories like Margaret which tell of a never-ending love of God who seeks out and continues to transform our lives in the midst of persistent sin. Those are saints I can relate to much more readily than the paragons of perfection.

The story of Margaret is also important for all who run into the persistent brokenness of people's lives. Poverty, drug addiction, infidelity, bad choices... all of these are deeply ingrained manifestations of the sin rampant in the world. We must be ready for a long process of movement from the dark to light. We must not give in to the result-driven perspective of our society. We are formed to run with endurance, to bear the cross, hanging in there with those who are engaged in the struggle to challenge, exhort, evangelize, and be Christ to them.

Grace and peace.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Attitudes in Christian worship... #1 of 8

Adoration. Adoration is an acknowledgement of God's transcendence made possible by the fact that he is also self-giving. The original religious impulse to prostrate oneself upon the sudden appearance of the overwhelming Numen is ritualized into bows and genuflexions in the context of cultic repetition. In biblical religion, the experience of the mysterium tremendum et fascinosum has taken on a personal and ethical character. The Wholly Other has become the transcendent Creator: 'Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker' (Psalm 95:6). If he inspires fear, it is on account of his power and purity; if he attracts it is by his creating love and redeeming grace. If the creature feels fear, it is on account of his own weakness and sin; if he is drawn toward God, it is because the love that made him will not let him go: 'Thou hast made us for thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in thee.' We can go farther: God's power shows grace to transform the sinner. Love casts out fear: Christians are no longer craven slaves but have become sons and daughters. Whether in power and purity or in love and grace, worshippers can do no more than tautologously ascribe 'holiness' to him. When in the liturgy we cry 'Holy, holy, holy,' we say that we are joining our voices to the ceaseless songs of the angelic hosts. That is further symbolic recognition of God's transcendence. His majesty is sometimes indirectly indicated by the description of his entourage of heavenly beings....
The language of adoration pays homage to the surpassing majesty of God and sings his amazing love for his creatures and his unexampled grace for sinners. At times, adoration will pass over the linguistic horizon into silence. Even that silence is directed toward God, and it is qualified by what the stammering tongue has been straining to say.
Geoffery Wainwright, Doxology: The Praise of God in Worship, Doctrine, and Life

Ash Wednesday

Almighty God, you hate nothing you have made and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create in us new and honest hearts, so that, truly repenting of our sins, we may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, full pardon and forgiveness; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen

Monday, February 19, 2007

Boniface of Lausanne... Feb. 19 -- Bishop and teacher

Boniface of Lausanne (Bishop and teacher, d. .1265) is commemorated today, Feb. 19. He only served nine years as bishop of Lausanne, since he had the temerity to publicly scold the EMPEROR and local clergy for their corruption. In speaking of Boniface, Butler's Lives of the Saints talks of his living the Christian life in "quiet desperation." The text says,
As has been true of so many who labor for Christ, Boniface ran into years of opposition and misunderstanding. Exasperated, he publicly expressed his poor opinion of the clergy who worked with him. Opposition intensified, and Emperor Frederick II also began to work against Boniface. An unruly group of men ambushed and seriously wounded him in 1239. Weak and competely discouraged, he resigned his post as bishop and returned to Brussels and the nuns at La Cambre (where he had been educated as a young boy).

For many of us, we buy into the notion that the good life is one that brings about results. The only struggle worth engaging in, we are told, is one where we can change things, gain results. But the Christian life is precisely not about results... at least outward, per se. As a Christian we engage in a struggle where God alone will bring about results... at the end. Now, we are called to engage in the struggle where we are sanctified. We are built up by practicing fortitude.

My only concern about Butler's text is where it says Boniface was weak and completely discouraged. As long as "completely discouraged" does not mean despair, then I am fine with that... but we must continue to hope that God is active in our lives and our words and deeds, even if we cannot see it at the moment.

For all who labor for Christ, we should hear that we do not labor in vain, even if we continually run into opposition. We should see that we are signposts to God's fortitude and never-ending desire to bring about the Kingdom.


Monday, February 12, 2007

I've been "Kind-n-ized"

Ok... so I went to the local hospital today to do a visit, and I stopped at the guard kiosk to get my parking pass, when he hands me a United Way "Random Acts of Kindness" card which tells me "You've been KIND-n-ized." So evidently this week is random acts of kindness week, and I should be all for it, right? Except, number one... a security guard sitting in a booth handing me a card doesn't make it all that clear exactly WHAT kindness I have been shown. I was just confused afterward.

And I am not at all for having a Random Acts of Kindness Week. As Christians we are called to love others, which might not be kind at all. And let's not be random at all please. Can we make our whole lives reflect the love we have been shown by the Triune God? Can we exhibit the charity that goes with being a disciple of Jesus Christ?

How many of these random acts of kindness are simply meant to evoke a warm and fuzzy feeling in people? Can I pass on being randomly kind, and instead live out my friendship with God consistently and continually? Why do we raise up this week as something special? It really should not be.

What we must wrestle with is the issue of what is the character of the Church. Are we a volunteer organization that seeks to occassionally reach out, or do we show God's love and mercy even when it hurts, bearing the cross?

So instead of Random Acts of Kindness, let's focus instead on the works of mercy, which are:

The corporal works of mercy are:

  • Feeding the hungry
  • Giving drink to the thirsty
  • Clothing the naked
  • Harboring the stranger
  • Visiting the sick
  • Ministering to prisoners
  • Burying the dead

The spiritual works of mercy are:

  • Admonishing the sinner
  • Instructing the ignorant
  • Counseling the doubtful
  • Comforting the afflicted
  • Bearing wrongs patiently
  • Forgiving injuries
  • Praying for the living and the dead