Feast of Saint Agnes— January 21

St. Agnes was one of the most celebrated saints of the Middle Ages. Saints Jerome, Ambrose, and Augustine all preached sermons about her exemplary life.  She died somewhere near the age of thirteen. We wonder how a child could be so commendable. She hadn’t been tried through years of testing or proven through accomplishment.  Her parents were well-to-do Romans of the 4th century, so she would not have suffered poverty or neglect, and may even have been spoiled.

Agnes did not become a saint by how she lived, but by how she died.  She became a Christian in a time of persecution, and held on tenaciously to her faith, despite all odds.  In today’s language, she knew who she was, what she wanted, and would not let anyone, or any situation, push her off-course.  She was one of the “overcomers” in Revelation 12:11 who “loved not their lives unto death.” The fact that she was only 12 (or 13) is awe-inspiring.

Her difficulties began when she spurned the son of a Roman prefect.  When he found out she was a Christian, he denounced her. Many attempts were made to force her to give up her faith, and she rejected them all.   According to accounts, she went to her death happily knowing she had remained true to herself and her God. The year was 304, during the last wave of Christian persecution under Diocletian.  Two years later, Constantine became the new Roman Emperor. In 313, the Edict of Milan was issued, which ended all the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. Who knows how the well-known story of Agnes’ bravery may have influenced this change.

The name “Agnes” is like the Latin agnus, which means lamb.  She is often portrayed in art holding or alongside a lamb.

New Doors for Emmanuel Chapel – Church of the Transfiguration

On December 1, the installation of the glass doors of Emmanuel Chapel, designed by Fr. Kim En Joong, represented the completion of the original artistic vision for the Church of the Transfiguration. Like the seer of Revelation, to whom the twelve gates of New Jerusalem appeared each as a shining pearl beautifying the walls of the Holy City (21:21), the artist has imagined and created doors of bright white, shimmering with the colors of creation’s spectrum. “I paint from dark to light,” Fr. Kim has said, an apt description for the way in which these doors also introduce to us the sacred space that lies behind them. 

Emmanuel Chapel was designed for the reservation of the Holy Sacrament, and for the past twenty years it has provided an intimate space in the Church of the Transfiguration for personal and small-group prayer and meditation. 

Fr. Kim En Joong, a world-renowned Dominican artist, was commissioned to design the chapel doors. Fr. Kim’s art graces churches, monasteries, abbeys, and other buildings in France, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Madagascar, and the United States. The glass doors of Emmanuel Chapel are only the second art installation of Fr. Kim’s work in the United States.

In a letter to Fra Angelico, his fifteenth century Dominican forbear, who also bore the double mantle of priest and artist, Fr. Kim once reflected on his own work, saying: “With a violent and purifying stream I would like to whiten this polluted world. . . .I am groping around to bring together an orchestra of colors and forms, just as one gropes towards Paradise.” Paradise is precisely the place for which the Sacrament prepares us and, by their dynamic and lyrical movement of light and color, these glass doors help to point the way. “My artistic action,” Fr. Kim once wrote, “is merely the effort of the prodigal son who wishes to rise and join the Father.” By the creation of these doors for Emmanuel Chapel, the artist takes us with him on that hopeful journey. 

In this season of Christmastide, we share with you our joy at the installation of these doors!

To read more about the doors on the Church of the Transfiguration website click here, and more about Emmanuel Chapel, click here.

Feast Day of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist December 27th

Today we celebrate the life of a great man become saint, John, Apostle and Evangelist. From the shores of Galilee to the Isle of Patmos, Saint John is remembered for many things in his life, not the least of which are his writings. Below we share a small sampling of the many things that have been written to honor St. John’s legacy through hymns, poems or prayers:

O St. John, with chains for thy wages,
Strong thy rock where the storm-blast rages,
Rock of refuge, the Rock of Ages.
— Christina Rossetti

Lord, and what shall this man do
Ask thou, Christian, for thy friend?
If his love for Christ be true,
Christ hath told thee of his end:
This is he whom God approves,
This is he whom Jesus loves.
        — Rev. John Keble

He was disciple, evangelist,
Apostle, prophet, what he list;
To him, His most darling friend
Jesus His mother did commend;
Then let St. John be loved by us,
Who was beloved by our Jesus.
— Thomas Wall

O Light Incarnate! Son of God!
Shed Thy bright Birthday beams
Upon our Church, upon our hearts,
In Sacramental streams;
And while we hail Thy Christmas-tide
With solemn Eucharist,
Accept our loving thanks and praise
For Thine Evangelist.
John the Divine, whose doctrine glows
As crystal in the sun, —
Translucent with the Light of Light,
The Incarnate Holy One;
His first Apocalypse he saw
In Patmos’ sacred isle,
And now he stands, enwrapt, entranced
In God’s eternal smile.
— Miss Geneviève Irons

 

Feast Day of Saint Stephen, Deacon and Martyr

Good King Wenceslas looked out,
On the feast of Stephen
When the snow lay round about,
Deep and crisp and even . . .

Today, the day after Christmas, is the Feast of St. Stephen. In England it is called “Boxing Day,” in Ireland “Wren Day,” and in Finland “the ride of St. Stephen’s Day – referring to a traditional sleigh ride with horses. It is the day when the Christian church has for centuries celebrated the life and death St. Stephen, the first Christian martyr.

Everything we know about Stephen comes from the Book of Acts. The name Stephen (Stephanos) is Greek, so we assume he was a Hellenistic, Greek-speaking Jew in Jerusalem. He is described in Acts 6:5 as a man “full of faith and the Holy Spirit . . . doing great wonders and signs among the people.”  He was chosen to oversee the distribution of food to poor widows, and he was also a preacher. His speech in Chapter 7 is the longest sermon recorded in Acts.

Most memorable are Stephen’s words just before his martyrdom.

Stephen, filled by the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven. He saw God’s glory, with Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and he said, “Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!” (Acts 7:55-56 NKJV)

As he was saying this, men began to stone him, laying their cloaks at the feet of a young man named Saul, a persecutor of Christians, who later became St. Paul, the Apostle. Who knows what effect Stephen’s words may have had on Paul’s conversion.

It is no wonder that the early church gave St. Stephen the honor of a feast day on the first day after Christmas, a special season in the church year. And what does this have to do with Good King Wenceslas, other than he went out on the feast of Stephen?  Good King Wenceslas saw a poor man trying to keep warm with very little fuel, and he had pity on him. Saying to his servant, “Bring me bread and bring me wine, bring me pine logs hither,” he brought the poor man to his house for dinner, becoming an example, in this carol, for all who have plenty and can give to those in need. This is the spirit of St. Stephen’s life and death – to give regardless of the cost.

May we all have this spirit today.

Follow the Lamb – Christmas Eve

Little lamb, little lamb show me the way.
I search for a child asleep on the hay.
I followed the shepherds, I followed a star.
Do you know, little lamb, is it yet very far?
I heard for a moment, a heavenly throng,
And followed the voices of sweet angel song.

Little lamb, lead me to life’s journey end,
To the one they call Jesus, the one I call friend.
Oh let me adore Him, and promise Him love
Oh let me adore Him, this child from above.
Little lamb, dearest lamb show me the way,
And gently I’ll kneel by His bed of fresh hay.

In the hush of the darkness I hear a faint cry,
I turn and I run toward a glow in the sky.
Just there, in a manger, so softly I tread
Just there, in a manger, I stroke His sweet head.
Joy to the Mother who gave the child birth,
Joy to all mankind and peace to all earth!

   

Hope and Expectation

It is Advent again, the time of waiting and hopeful expectation for the coming of Christ. We are in that incredible interval of time where we have hope from remembering Christ’s first coming, while we look forward in eager anticipation to when He will return.

As I recently heard the familiar scriptures of the Birth of Jesus, Mary’s response to all that occurred stood out to me as model I could follow for my Advent preparation.

Mary was honest. If she had a question, she asked. (“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”)

Then, she listened, and connected with the Lord. Mary had a relationship with God, and took time to be quiet while she conversed with Him.

After hearing what the shepherds said, she “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” How many times have I had something I’ve talked to the Lord about, and then didn’t take the time to listen for the answer, so I could keep the conversation going, so I could treasure and ponder things in my heart?

Mary was obedient. “I am the Lord’s servant. May it be to me as you have said.” She knew God and trusted Him. Because she put Him first, she was able to let her soul glorify Him. Her spirit rejoiced in Him, because she took the time to know Him and love Him.

It takes time to practice being obedient to the small things, so our hearts can be ready to do anything He asked because of our love for Him.

There are few times in the Bible that Mary’s words show up, but they all show who she was. She was concerned for others and was keenly aware of what their needs were. She noticed that there was no more wine at the wedding at Cana, and she brought it to her Son’s attention. Her direction to the wine stewards is a good word to us- “Whatever He says to you, do it.”

Each Advent, we have the chance for new life, and new hope, if we look to Him and prepare our hearts.

Feast of St. Ambrose – December 7

Today we honor Saint Ambrose and his many contributions to our faith.  Known as the Father of Western Hymnody, he left a prolific number of song texts, many of them familiar to modern worshipers. He also promoted Antiphonal chant, a style in which one side of the choir answers in response to the other.

He was born c. 340 AD in Augusta Treverorum, in the Roman province of Gaul. A beautiful legend surrounds his infancy, here described:  While asleep in his cradle, a swarm of bees settled on his face. Without harming the child, they deposited a single drop of honey, then flew away.  His father, standing nearby, declared this a sign of Ambrose’s future eloquence, a man with a “honeyed tongue.” 

Ambrose followed his father’s example of public service. After studying literature, law, and rhetoric in Rome, he became the governor of Liguria and Emilia, which had headquarters in Milan.  Saint Ambrose served as governor until 374 AD, at which time he was named Bishop of Milan. Neither baptized nor a theologian, Ambrose vehemently refused the office. He hid in the house of a colleague, but a letter from the Emperor Gratian convinced the friend to release Ambrose from his protection.  Within a week, Ambrose was baptized, ordained, and consecrated as Bishop of Milan. A Nicene Christian, Ambrose as Bishop was at odds with the then-popular Arian heresy. Arians did not submit to the tenants of the Nicene Creed and therefore undermined the official church. 

 Ambrose, however, was not rigid in smaller matters and felt that liturgy was the servant of the people and the enhancer of worship.  He believed in following local liturgical custom, which prompted him to say, “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not.”  Sound familiar? We introduced this doctrine into everyday life with the phrase, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”

The life of Saint Ambrose influenced and supported our faith.  He was generous, a consoler and instrument of hope, eloquent in word and manner, and a defender of truth. He died on April 4th, 397 at the age of 57, in the city of Milan. 

Among his beautiful texts we sing today are,  At the Lamb’s High Feast, Before the Ending of the Day, Holy God, Thy Name We Bless and Hark! A Thrilling Voice Proclaiming.

Feast of St. Nicholas of Myra – December 6

Nicholas was born March 15th, 270, in the city of Patara, Asia Minor, then part of the Roman Empire.  He died on December 6th, 343, at the age of 73 in Myra, Roman Empire. His family was Greek Christian and reportedly quite wealthy.  Because he lived during a turbulent time in Roman history, written records of St. Nicholas’ life are few and writings of his own were not preserved. However, the essence of this exemplary man survived, and he remains greatly loved throughout the world.

Even as a child, Nicholas was drawn to scripture and prayer. His uncle, also named Nicholas, was Bishop of Patara. He recognized the spiritual maturity and piety of his nephew, and ordained him first a reader and then priest while still a young man. He made a pilgrimage to Egypt and Palestine, and upon his return was appointed Bishop of Myra.

 When his parents died, Saint Nicholas distributed his inheritance to the poor and afflicted. Many legends surround his anonymous giving, and here is one example:  A man had three daughters, and insufficient money to provide dowries, so the sisters remained unmarried. Their father, feeling he had no choice, considered selling them into servitude.  St. Nicholas, learning of their plight, made three secret visits to their home, each time tossing a bag of gold coins through a window opening, one for each daughter’s dowry. 

Other such stories exist, evidence that Saint Nicholas was both gentle and kind, a generous man with a heart for the poor. He is Patron Saint of children, sailors, fishermen, merchants, the falsely accused, repentant thieves, and nations such as Russia and Greece.  

Angels in the Belfry

English style change ringing is an unusual activity. The basic mechanics of ringing a large bell are daunting but mastered with perseverance. However, placing oneself on the avenue of learning bell patterns – known as methods – and then agreeing to learn to ring them correctly can become a “down the rabbit hole” experience, causing one to exclaim with Alice: “curiouser and curioser!” Perfection in ringing is especially challenging in the presence of others attempting the same thing.

One simple “curious” example is that we are operating possibly the loudest musical instruments on the planet, but the degree of constant focus requires absolute silence both amongst the ringers and also the area around the ringing chamber. Signs reading “silence please” are quite common in change-ringing belfries, and in our particular case of a ground-floor level ringing room, there’s the phenomenon of passers-by tiptoeing by the tower during special rings (our Community of Jesus family have become very good sports in all of this.)

With all the oddities and difficulties, it can be a source of comfort and inspiration to recollect that our tower connects with God’s angels. The obvious visible connection is the hovering massive hovering presence of the Angel of the Church of the Transfiguration sculpted in bronze at the pinnacle. Just as important for us ringers, is the annual Feast of St. Michael and All Angels at the end of September. Ten years ago, this feast day was selected for our first public bell ringing. In honor of the decade remembrance this year, a group of us were able (with angels’ help!) to ring our first full peal in commemoration. Many of our family, well-versed in bell listening requirements (silence please!), crept up near the tower to support us.