Friday, November 22, 2013

St. Francis Parish Magazine: Advent 2013

St. Francis Parish Magazine


Advent 2013

The Rector’s Report: 2013

I have yet to hear a sermon free of glimpses of the obvious. Sometimes not even glimpses but good straight stares.

--Sydney Smith

After twenty years of Parish Annual Meetings I feel not the slightest need to say anything new or creative or startling but only, as Canon Sydney Smith said, to take a good straight stare at the obvious.

From the beginning or at least long before just last year this parish has had what is now called fashionably ‘a mission statement’. The problem with most mission statements is that they state everything except the obvious:

“The [XYZ Nonprofit Organization] creates, connects and collaborates to raise awareness and inspire change in the areas of well-being, preserving cultures and empowering children in mind, body and spirit. [XYZ Nonprofit Organization] designs forums, partners with existing organizations and brings together experts to define solutions and implement action”.

By contrast St. Francis’ ‘missionary statement’
states only the obvious:

1.       To worship God.
2.      To grow in holiness.
3.      To share our faith with others.

Just those three things and in that order. So how are we doing?

Around here the Mass matters and the Mass is the biggest and most important thing we do. We go to a lot of trouble to ‘do this’ as Jesus told us to do. I have not calculated exactly the portion of the budget which is consumed with assuring that the Eucharist is celebrated, but given that I am the most expensive part of the enterprise and figuring in bread and wine, candles, vestments, incense, thuribles, chalices, music, utilities, and all the rest, it is big portion of our expenditures. This is not even to take into account time and talent.

However, you might not know this from Sunday and Holy Day Mass attendance. It is not that comparatively we have poor attendance. Compared to plenty of other Anglican/Episcopal parishes we do pretty well. Nor is it simply a problem of the parish not growing. It is compared to ourselves that we have poor attendance. We have about 190 members and that is the number of people who should be at Mass on Sunday.

Much more importantly we should compare our numbers with the stupendous mystery of Eucharist itself, “the source and summit of the Church’s life”.

The Eucharist is "the source and summit of the Christian life." "The other sacraments, and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the Church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch."

"The Eucharist is the efficacious sign and sublime cause of that communion in the divine life and that unity of the People of God by which the Church is kept in being. It is the culmination both of God's action sanctifying the world in Christ and of the worship men offer to Christ and through him to the Father in the Holy Spirit."

Finally, by the Eucharistic celebration we already unite ourselves with the heavenly liturgy and anticipate eternal life, when God will be all in all. In brief, the Eucharist is the sum and summary of our faith” (The Catechism of the Catholic Church).

If we really believe all that, then we will not only be very careful about casually missing Mass, we will be passionate about  being present as often as possible, when the Eucharistic Sacrifice is offered.

Spirituality is “in” these days. The Book Stores are full of books about Spirituality. The superiority of ‘spirituality’ over religion is the conclusion of a number of polls.  Our Protestant friends have discovered spirituality in a big time way. In my experience, however, you can easily dampen this enthusiasm by reminding folks that the greatest help, indeed the most necessary thing in Christian Spirituality is the Sacrament of Penance. Renewal Songs, Workshops on Prayer, Psychology, Meditation, Small Group Discussion, everybody wants to sign up for these. But mention Confession and the room empties pretty quickly.

There is quite frankly no better gauge of an individual’s growth in holiness and a parish’s
spiritual health than the willingness to confess sins and receive absolution. This Sacrament is the one thing that keeps us honest and realistic, makes us loveable and loving, removes obstacles that stand between us and God and others, and draws us close to the Cross and causes us to experience the Resurrection. Without Confession our religion is barren and dry.

In the last twenty years I have steadily heard fewer and fewer confessions each year. It might be that I am a poor confessor, although’ Lord knows, it is not from wont of experience. Fortunately I am not the only priest available here or elsewhere. No one can force you to go to confession, not even your parish priest’s most clever rhetoric. The truth still stands: the Sacrament of Penance is an indispensable sign and means of the growth in holiness, to which we are committed around here.

It may say something to note that very few people come to me and say ‘we have to do something about Sunday Mass attendance” or “why aren’t more people making their confessions these days?” What they do come and say is “we have to make St. Francis grow”.
More often than I say it, I think “why?” Do not get me wrong: I want St. Francis to grow. I pray for growth in parish every day. Every Tuesday I offer Mass for this in intention.

But why we need to grow is important. If it is a matter of survival or prestige or anxiety, then it might well not happen. If, on the other hand, it is because Jesus ordered us, as surely as he ordered us, to ‘do this’ and ‘to repent’: to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age." That is entirely another matter. We have our standing orders.

On top of that I do not want St. Francis to grow because it is delightful little out of the way bistro, which deserves more business. I want St. Francis to grow because this is a place, where the undiluted truth is taught, where God is worshipped in the beauty of holiness and in spirit and truth, where you are loved and can learn to love all the more, where the good of the past is not forgotten but lived in the present, where those holy things, family, community and friendship are not just clichés but a living reality, where your faith, hope and love will be tried and perfected at every turn.

Practically three things need to be said about evangelization. First and most importantly the parish priest is not primarily the person who does it; it is the work of lay folks. You can dress it up with as many gimmicks, as you like, but it comes down to’ a friend inviting a friend’. This means, for the most part, old folks will invite old folks, young folks will invite young folks. So, if the problem is we do not have enough young folks, then the answer is not ‘let’s have folk Masses and Rock Music’ but rather the young folks will have to get busy. We old fogies will hold the babies; you young folks go after your peers.

Secondly, if you say that you do not have any friends to invite, as the oldies like to say, then pray and pray every day for the growth of the parish. In fact the most important thing the parish as a whole can do is to pray for the parish. Ask God to do what you cannot and ask him to give the grace to do what you can. Ask Our Lady and St. Francis and any  other friends you may have to pray for the same.

Finally, an entirely unproved theory: Anglo-Catholic parishes usually do not convert people; what they do is explain to people what they ought to do with the rest of their life, once they are converted. As the Church Growth wizards say, that is probably our demographic. 

We have got Jesus, we have got the forgiveness of sins, we have the truth, we have more love than we know what to do with. My bet is that there are other folks who would like in on all that.

That said, you all continue to amaze me. As the old Canon of Mass has it: Remember, O Lord, thy servants and handmaids and all who here around us stand, whose faith is known unto thee and their steadfastness manifest. Your faith is known and manifest. I am surrounded with ‘a great cloud of witnesses’ folks who are willing to sacrifice, to give generously of their time and money, to fight the good fight against sin, the world and the devil, to forgive seventy times seventy, to love the unlovable, and to take up their cross and follow Jesus. I am blessed beyond measure to be your parish priest and friend.

Fr. Allen

A Pagan View of the Church Year

D.H. Lawrence

The old Church knew that life is here our portion, to be lived in fulfillment. The stern rule of Benedict, the wild flights of Francis of Assisi, these were coruscations in the steady heaven of the Church. The rhythm of life itself was preserved by the Church, hour by hour, day by day, season by season, year by year, epoch by epoch, down among the people, and the wild coruscations were accommodated to this permanent rhythm. We feel it, in the south, in the country, when we hear the jangle of the bells at dawn, at noon, at sunset, marking the hours with the sound of Mass or prayers. It is the rhythm of the daily sun. We feel it in the festivals, the processions, Christmas, the Three Kings, Easter, Pentecost, St. John's Day, All Saints', All Souls'. This is the wheeling of the year, the movement of the sun through solstice and equinox, the coming of the seasons, the going of the seasons. And it is the inward rhythm of man and woman, too, the sadness of Lent, the delight of Easter, the wonder of Pentecost, the fires of St. John, the candles on the graves of All Souls', the lit-up tree of Christmas, all representing kindled rhythmic emotions in the souls of men and women. . .• Oh, what a catastrophe for man when he cut himself off from the rhythm of the year, from his union with the sun and the earth. Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was a personal, merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun, and cut off from the magic connection of the solstice and the equi-
nox! This is what is the matter with us.

A Christian View of the Church Year

Bede Griffths

Just as the Pagan who contemplated the course of nature, the movement of the stars, the dying of the vegetation in the winter and its rising again in the spring, strove to participate
in the divine mystery and to share in the divine life; so the Christian who contemplates the life of Christ, desires to share in that life, to die with him and to rise again to a new and immortal life. This is the mystery which underlies the sacred liturgy. It is a means by which the Christian may share in the life and death and resurrection of Christ.

Prayers to be Used with the Advent Wreath

First Week

Stir up thy power, O Lord, and come, that by thy protection we may be rescued from the dangers that beset us through our sins; and be a Redeemer to deliver us; Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end.

Second Week

Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the paths of thine Only-begotten Son: that we may worthily serve thee with hearts purified by His coming: Who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Third Week

We beseech thee to listen to our prayers, O Lord, and by the grace of thy coming enlighten our darkened minds: Thou who livest and reignest with God the Father in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God forever and ever. Amen.

Fourth Week

Pour forth thy power, O Lord, and come: Assist us by that mighty power, so that by thy grace and merciful kindness we may swiftly receive the salvation that our sins impede:Who livest and reignest with thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Alma Redemptoris Mater

O loving Mother of our Redeemer, gate of heaven, star of the sea,
Hasten to aid thy fallen people who strive to rise once more.
Thou who brought forth thy holy Creator, all creation wond'ring,
Yet remainest ever Virgin, taking from Gabriel's lips
that joyful "Hail!": be merciful to us sinners.

Up through the day before Christmas Eve:
V. The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.
R. And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray. Pour forth, we beseech Thee, O Lord, Thy grace into our hearts, that we, to whom the incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His passion and cross be brought to the glory of His resurrection, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

From Christmas Eve on:
V. Thou gavest birth without loss of thy virginity:
R. Intercede for us, O holy Mother of God.

Let us pray. O God, Who by the fruitful virginity of blessed Mary hast offered unto the human race the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech thee, that we may know the effects of her intercession, through whom we have deserved to receive the author of life, our Lord Jesus Christ, Thy Son. Amen.

Advent Readings

From a catechetical instruction by Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop
(Cat. 15, 1-3: PG 33, 870-874)

On the twofold coming of Christ

We do not preach only one coming of Christ, but a second as well, much more glorious than the first. The first coming was marked by patience; the second will bring the crown of a divine kingdom.

In general, whatever relates to our Lord Jesus Christ has two aspects. There is a birth from God before the ages, and a birth from a virgin at the fullness of time. There is a hidden coming, like that of rain on fleece, and a coming before all eyes, still in the future.

At the first coming he was wrapped in swaddling clothes in a manger. At his second coming he will be clothed in light as in a garment. In the first coming he endured the cross, despising the shame; in the second coming he will be in glory, escorted by an army of angels.

We look then beyond the first coming and await the second. At the first coming we said: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord. At the second we shall say it again; we shall go out with the angels to meet the Lord and cry out in adoration: Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

The Saviour will not come to be judged again, but to judge those by whom he was judged. At his own judgement he was silent; then he will address those who committed the outrages against him when they crucified him and will remind them: You did these things, and I was silent.

His first coming was to fulfil his plan of love, to teach men by gentle persuasion. This time, whether men like it or not, they will be subjects of his kingdom by necessity.

Malachi the prophet speaks of the two comings. And the Lord whom you seek will come suddenly to his temple: that is one coming.

Again he says of another coming: Look, the Lord almighty will come, and who will endure the day of his entry, or who will stand in his sight? Because he comes like a refiner's fire, a fuller's herb, and he will sit refining and cleansing.

These two comings are also referred to by Paul in writing to Titus: The grace of God the Saviour has appeared to all men, instructing us to put aside impiety and worldly desires and live temperately, uprightly, and religiously in this present age, waiting for the joyful hope, the appearance of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Notice how he speaks of a first coming for which he gives thanks, and a second, the one we still await.

That is why the faith we profess has been handed on to you in these words: He ascended into heaven, and is seated at the right hand of the Father, and he will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.

Our Lord Jesus Christ will therefore come from heaven. He will come at the end of the world, in glory, at the last day. For there will be an end to this world, and the created world will be made new.

From a sermon by St Gregory Nazianzen, bishop
(Oratio 45,9,22.26.28: PG 36, 634-635.654.658-659.662)

The marvel of the Incarnation
The very Son of God, older than the ages, the invisible, the incomprehensible, the incorporeal, the beginning of beginning, the light of light, the fountain of life and immortality, the image of the archetype, the immovable seal, the perfect likeness, the definition and word of the Father: he it is who comes to his own image and takes our nature for the good of our nature, and unites himself to an intelligent soul for the good of my soul, to purify like by like. He takes to himself all that is human, except for sin. He was conceived by the Virgin Mary, who had been first prepared in soul and body by the Spirit; his coming to birth had to be treated with honor, virginity had to receive new honor. He comes forth as God, in the human nature he has taken, one being, made of two contrary elements, flesh and spirit. Spirit gave divinity, flesh received it.

He who makes rich is made poor; he takes on the poverty of my flesh, that I may gain the riches of his divinity. He who is full is made empty; he is emptied for a brief space of his glory, that I may share in his fullness. What is this wealth of goodness? What is this mystery that surrounds me? I received the likeness of God, but failed to keep it. He takes on my flesh, to bring salvation to the image, immortality to the flesh. He enters into a second union with us, a union far more wonderful than the first.
Holiness had to be brought to man by the humanity assumed by one who was God, so that God might overcome the tyrant by force and so deliver us and lead us back to himself through the mediation of his Son. The Son arranged this for the honour of the Father, to whom the Son is clearly obedient in all things.
The Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, came in search of the straying sheep to the mountains and hills on which you used to offer sacrifice. When he found it, he took it on the shoulders that bore the wood of the cross, and led it back to the life of heaven.

Christ, the light of all lights, follows John, the lamp that goes before him. The Word of God follows the voice in the wilderness; the bridegroom follows the bridegroom's friend, who prepares a worthy people for the Lord by cleansing them by water in preparation for the Spirit.

We need God to take our flesh and die, that we might live. We have died with him, that we may be purified. We have risen again with him, because we have died with him. We have been glorified with him, because we have risen again with him.

From a sermon by St Bernard, abbot
(Sermo 5, In Adventu Domini,1-3: Opera Omnia, Edit. cisterc. 4 [1966], 188-190)

God's Word will come to us
We know that there are three comings of the Lord. The third lies between the other two. It is invisible, while the other two are visible. In the first coming he was seen on earth, dwelling among men; he himself testifies that they saw him and hated him. In the final coming all flesh will see the salvation of our God, and they will look on him whom they pierced. The intermediate coming is a hidden one; in it only the elect see the Lord within their own selves, and they are saved. In his first coming our Lord came in our flesh and in our weakness; in this middle coming he comes in spirit and in power; in the final coming he will be seen in glory and majesty.

In case someone should think that what we say about this middle coming is sheer invention, listen to what our Lord himself ways: If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him. There is another passage of Scripture which reads: He who fears God will do good, but something further has been said about the one who loves, that is, that he will keep God’s word. Where is God’s word to be kept? Obviously in the heart, as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God’s word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

Because this coming lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first, Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming, he is our rest and consolation.

If you keep the word of God in this way, it will also keep you. The Son with the Father will come to you. The great Prophet who will build the new Jerusalem will come, the one who makes all things new. This coming will fulfill what is written: As we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, we shall also bear the likeness of the heavenly man. Just as Adam’s sin spread through all mankind and took hold of all, so Christ, who created and redeemed all, will glorify all, once he takes possession of all.

From a sermon by Saint Augustine, bishop
(Sermo 293,3: PI, 1328-1329)

The Voice is John, the Word is Christ
John is the voice, but the Lord is the Word who was in the beginning. John is the voice that lasts for a time; from the beginning Christ is the Word who lives for ever.

Take away the word, the meaning, and what is the voice? Where there is no understanding, there is only a meaningless sound. The voice without the word strikes the ear but does not build up the heart.

However, let us observe what happens when we first seek to build up our hearts. When I think about what I am going to say, the word or message is already in my heart. When I want to speak to you, I look for a way to share with your heart what is already in mine.

In my search for a way to let this message reach you, so that the word already in my heart may find a place also in  yours, I use my voice to speak to you. The sound of my voice brings the meaning of the word to you and then passes away. The word which the sound has brought to you is now in your heart, and yet it is still also in mine.

When the word has been conveyed to you, does not the sound seem to say: The word ought to grow, and I should diminish? The sound of the voice has made itself heard in the service of the word, and has gone away, as though it were saying: My joy is complete. Let us hold on to the word; we must not lose the word conceived inwardly in our hearts.

Do you need proof that the voice passes away but the divine Word remains? Where is John's baptism today? It served its purpose, and it went away. Now it is Christ's baptism that we celebrate. It is in Christ that we all believe; we hope for salvation in him. This is the message the voice cried out.

Because it is hard to distinguish word from voice, even John himself was thought to be the Christ. The voice was thought to be the word. But the voice acknowledged what is was, anxious not to give offense to the word. I am not the Christ, he said, nor Elijah, nor the prophet. And the question came: Who are you, then? He replied: I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord.

The voice of one crying in the wilderness is the voice of one breaking the silence. Prepare the way for the Lord, he says, as though he were saying: "I speak out in order to lead him into your hearts, but he does not choose to come where I lead him unless you prepare the way for him."

To prepare the way means to pray well; it means thinking humbly of oneself. We should take our lesson from John the Baptist. He is thought to be the Christ; he declares he is not what they think. He does not take advantage of their mistake to further his own glory.

If he had said, "I am the Christ," you can imagine how readily he would have been believed, since they believed he was the Christ even before he spoke. But he did not say it; he acknowledged what he was. He pointed out clearly who he was; he humbled himself.
He saw where his salvation lay. He understood that he was a lamp, and his fear was that it might be blown out by the wind of pride.

From a homily In Praise of the Virgin Mother by Saint Bernard, abbot
(Hom. 4:8-9; Opera omnia, Edit Cisterc 4. [1966], 53-54)

The whole world awaits Mary's reply

You have heard, O Virgin, that you will conceive and bear a son; you have heard that it will not be by man but by the Holy Spirit. The angel awaits an answer; it is time for him to return to God who sent him. We too are waiting, O Lady, for your word of compassion; the sentence of condemnation weighs heavily upon us.

The price of our salvation is offered to you. We shall be set free at once if you consent. In the eternal Word of God we all came to be, and behold, we die. In your brief response we are to be remade in order to be recalled to life.

Tearful Adam with his sorrowing family begs this of you, O loving Virgin, in their exile from Paradise. Abraham begs it, David begs it. All the other holy patriarchs, your ancestors, ask it of you, as they dwell in the country of the shadow of death. This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed, salvation for all the sons of Adam, the whole of your race.

Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the
eternal Word.

Why do you delay, why are you afraid? Believe, give praise, and receive. Let humility be bold, let modesty be confident. This is no time for virginal simplicity to forget prudence. In this matter alone, O prudent Virgin, do not fear to be presumptuous. Though modest silence is pleasing, dutiful speech is now more necessary. Open your heart to faith, O blessed Virgin, your lips to praise, your womb to the Creator. See, the desired of all nations is at your door, knocking to enter. If he should pass by because of your delay, in sorrow you would begin to seek him afresh, the One whom your soul loves. Arise, hasten, open. Arise in faith, hasten in devotion, open in praise and thanksgiving. Behold the handmaid of the Lord, she says, be it done to me according to your word.

The ‘O’ Antiphons

The O Antiphons developed during the Church's very first centuries. The writer Boethius (+525) mentions them. By the 8th century they were in use in Rome. There are seven of these special antiphons, and their texts spring from the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures, the Prophetic and Wisdom Books. They are found in the Liturgy of the Hours or older Roman Breviary, which clerics, religious, consecrated virgins, and others use for daily prayer.

The O Antiphons are short prayers sung before and after the Magnificat.  The Magnificat is sung during Vespers, Evening prayer. The O Antiphons begin on 17 December, seven days before the Vigil of Christmas (24 December). The seventh and last antiphon is sung at Vespers on 23 December. They are called the "O Antiphons" because they all begin with the letter-word "O": they address Jesus by one of
His Old Testament titles. 

The Latin versions of each of the titles of the Messiah are: Sapientia (Wisdom), Adonai (Lord), Radix (Root), Clavis (Key), Oriens (Dawn), Rex (King), and Emmanuel (Emmanuel).  Take the first letters of each of the titles, starting with the last and working back to the first. You spell: EROCRAS or "ero cras... I will be (there) tomorrow".

The hymn "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" is simply a reworking of the seven O Antiphons. When you sing it, you are joining yourself to a vast throng of Christians stretching back across centuries and spanning the whole of the earth who prayed as all Christians do, "Come, Lord Jesus!" (Rev 22:20) From Fr Z

O Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

18 Dec. O Adonai
O Lord and Ruler the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

19 Dec. O Radix Jesse
O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.

20 Dec. O Clavis David
O Key of David, and scepter of the house of Israel, who opens and no man shuts, who shuts and no man opens: come, and bring forth the captive from his prison, he who sits in darkness and in the shadow of death.

21 Dec. O Oriens
O dawn of the east, brightness of light eternal, and sun of justice: come, and enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.

22 Dec. O Rex Gentium
O King of the gentiles and their desired One, the cornerstone that makes both one: come, and deliver man, whom you formed out of the dust of the earth.

23 Dec. O Emmanuel
O Emmanuel, God with us, our King and lawgiver, the expected of the nations and their Savior: come to save us, O Lord our God.


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