Feast Day of St. Thomas – July 3rd

Saint Thomas the Apostle was born in first century Galilee. Syrian Christian tradition maintains that he was martyred at St. Thomas Mount, Chennai, India, in 72 AD.  Saint Thomas was reportedly a reluctant missionary, but obedience overcame his misgivings, and he traveled as far as present-day India, converting many to Christianity through preaching, baptism, and the performing of miracles. He is honored as Patron Saint of India.

As we celebrate the Feast Day of Saint Thomas, let us do so with eyes wide open. We’re blessed to know this man who personifies our own times of unbelief, our skepticism, and tendency to look first at the dark side of an unknown. I point my not-so-understanding finger and refer to “Doubting Thomas,” often not recognizing he’s one of us and a figure of hope, compassion, and forgiveness. His stubborn insistence on touching the wounds of Christ stand as a sacred witness to His Resurrection for all time.

Let’s turn to another page of Thomas’s story. In John 11:16 upon the death of Lazarus, the other apostles, knowing Jesus’s life was in danger, wished to avoid travel to Judea. Thomas, however, aware of the Lord’s great desire to go to Bethany, fearlessly proclaimed, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

In John 14:5, Jesus explains to the disciples that He is going away to prepare a place in heaven for them, where they will one day join Him. Thomas asks the obvious, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going; how can we know the way?”

Jesus answered him with that most treasured phrase, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Thomas, the practical, the skeptical, the stubborn, the doubter, the brave, and the loyal – so much revealed in so few words – left a legacy of faithful service.

Community of Jesus Cloister

Cloister of the Community of Jesus — St. Thomas

Feast Day of the Birth of St. John the Baptist – June 24

“Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear a son, and you will name him John.” These words spoken by the Angel Gabriel at the altar in the Temple, over two thousand years ago, startled and amazed Zechariah, who was taking his turn offering up incense to God. This astounding event underscores the importance of John the Baptist.

The Angel also told Zechariah that John would never take strong drink, but be filled with the Holy Spirit from birth. Gabriel, messenger of and from God, spoke with unquestionable authority. However, because of his unbelief, Zechariah, even though a righteous man, was rendered mute until John’s birth.

Then three months later, Mary visited her kinswoman Elizabeth in the hill country of Judea. The visit was an unusual and greatly blessed event –  the baby John leaped for joy in Elizabeth’s womb, and Elizabeth spontaneously greeted Mary as the future mother of the Lord.  At least one famous painting depicts Jesus and John playing together as little boys, an altogether possible event. They were kinsmen, and they were children of the same age.

John was a descendant of Aaron and grew up faithful to his call as a Nazirite, striving always to live in harmony with God’s law. He brought many in Israel back to the Lord their God, fulfilling Gabriel’s declaration at the Temple altar. Eschewing strong drink, dressed in a rough camel hair tunic, and eating locusts and wild honey, John faithfully preached repentance and baptized many in the Jordan River. He also proclaimed that there is “One coming after me who is more powerful than I; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

Realizing he was only a forerunner, John knew himself and his limits and said he was not worthy even to untie the thong of Jesus’s sandals. His humility was apparent when Jesus asked John to baptize him, and John hesitated. When John finally agreed, and Jesus emerged from the water, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Jesus. God spoke from heaven, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

John, who was likened to Elijah by Jesus, was a speaker of the truth. Elijah confronted King Ahab, and later, John confronted Herod for divorcing his wife and unlawfully marrying his sister-in-law. Even though the great Herod knew this was true, he was not pleased. It was Herod’s order that John the Baptist, an outstanding servant of God, was beheaded. Nevertheless, as the Angel Gabriel foretold, Saint John the Baptist obediently fulfilled God’s call on his life and was greatly beloved by His Lord.

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*Biblical narrative is from John, Chapter 1 and Matthew Chapter 3 and includes direct quotes.

 

Feast of the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration, June, 2020

Today we celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration.

This past December, the installation of the glass doors to Emmanuel Chapel were a beautiful, last addition to the physical building. These glass doors, full of color, shimmer with creation’s spectrum and introduce us to to the sacred space for the reserved sacrament that lies behind them. In the past few months, the final organ console was also installed, and we look forward to the organ’s completion in the coming year, when all remaining pipes will be in place and this instrument will speak with a majestic voice – proclaiming the word in music and supporting the songs of praise offered in this space.

The hymn, “O Wondrous Name” – written for the initial Dedication of the Church in the year 2000 by Hal M. Helms is a fitting prayer of praise that reflects on our spiritual journey, God’s guidance in past years and hope for the future.

O wondrous Name, all other names above
O blessed bringer of the Father’s love
O holy Jesus, Saviour, Lord and King
Accept the thanks and praise your people bring.

On paths untried your guiding light has shown,
You hand has led through trackless ways unknown.
You bid us trust, though steep our way may be,
That we Your greater glory yet may see.

And hitherto each promise You have made
Has been fulfilled in Your unfailing aid.
The hand that led and blessed us in the past
Will still sustain and keep us to the last.

O wondrous Lord, whose holy Name we bear,
Keep this your flock forever in Your care.
Where’er Your way shall lead, we follow on
Until we stand at last before Your throne.

Your Name, O Father and Your Name, O Son,
Your Name O Holy Spirit ever One,
With all the host of heaven we adore,
And praise Your holy Name for evermore.

Your Name, Your Name O Son
Your Name, O Holy Spirit ever One,
With all the host of heaven we adore
And praise Your holy Name for evermore.

 

 

St. Barnabas, Apostle – June 11th

Saint Barnabas, according to tradition, was of Jewish descent, possibly from the island of Cyprus; he was one of the earliest and well known Christian disciples in Jerusalem and worked alongside the apostles. Joseph was his given name, but the early disciples called him Barnabas, ‘Son of Encouragement.’ Barnabas was also described as ‘full of the Holy Spirit.’ He excelled in peacemaking, encouraging and exhorting, gifts much needed in an early church, which was fraught with struggles, difficulties, and persecutions both real and potential.

In the book of Acts, we meet Barnabas as a friend and staunch supporter of Paul. Paul needed reconciliation with the Jerusalem Christians, whom he had assiduously persecuted. Barnabas was able to confirm and testify to Paul’s conversion and faith in Jesus, facilitating Paul’s acceptance.

Saint Barnabas also understood the work of God, including the Gentiles in His saving grace; he probably spent his life serving God to this end. Barnabas and Paul worked side by side in Antioch.  They included John Mark, possibly the cousin or nephew of Barnabas on missionary journeys to Asia Minor. Paul and Barnabas had their differences and separated at one point, reconciling later. These were flesh and blood men. Barnabas was no stranger to opposition as he spoke directly against false practices and concepts. Tradition says that Barnabas was martyred by stoning.

The Book of Acts outlines and describes how this ‘Son of Encouragement’ was instrumental in the formation and growth of the early church, attempting to steer a true and accurate course.

Community of Jesus St. Barnabas, Cloister Saint, Church of the Transfiguration

St. Barnabas, Cloister Saint, Church of the Transfiguration

St. Columba of Iona, Abbot – June 9th

Early in the 1960’s, Benjamin Britten composed a hymn to celebrate the 1,400th anniversary of St. Columba’s voyage to Iona in Scotland. But how is it that Columba born in Ireland in 521 A.D., and also a descendant of the great Irish King Niall, ended up in Scotland? As a youth showing much brilliance, Columba or Colmcille attended the monastic school at Clonard Abbey in Ireland. Taught by the famous scholar Saint Finnian, he later became part of the group known as the Twelve Apostles.

Columba became a deacon, then a monk, and at twenty-five, a priest. A vigorous and imposing man, he traveled all over Ireland the next fifteen years, with only a brief return home to the north when a plague struck central Ireland in 554. During this time, Columba spent his time teaching, preaching, and founding churches and monasteries wherever he went, seemingly reaching the pinnacle of his religious life.

Suddenly, Columba’s life took a turn. Secretly he had borrowed Finnian’s recently acquired copy of St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate and did his own translation into Gaelic. The problem arose when Finnian demanded the return of his book, but Columba steadfastly refused. Strong feelings on both sides resulted in the “Battle of the Book” occurring in 561 and the cause of much bloodshed. Feeling guilty for indirectly causing the death of many, Columba, believing in expiation for his sins, left Ireland with twelve followers.

Traveling in a wicker boat covered with leather, Columba and his men landed on Iona, a tiny Scottish island. There he built his first Celtic church, established a monastic community, and converted most of pagan Scotland and northern England. Iona became so famous that its influence spread throughout mainland Europe. It is there that Columba died in peace in June of 597. What is striking is how Columba acknowledged his wrong-doing, moved ahead and let God weave together the many strands of his life creating a tapestry more intricate than he could have imagined.

Feast Day of Saint Boniface, June 5th — Eighth Century Bishop

The feast of Saint Boniface, celebrated June 5th, honors a man credited for three major life time accomplishments: missionary to and apostle of Germania, reformer of the Frankish church (and its ensuing influence on Western Christianity), and zealous pursuit of an alliance between the papacy and Frankish aristocrats.

Born c. AD 675, in Devon, England, Boniface was martyred for his missionary work on June 5, AD 754, in Frisia (now part of the Netherlands.)  It is said that he was attacked and martyred as he read Scripture to new Christian converts on Pentecost Sunday. During his life, many honors were given him, including selection as archbishop and metropolitan of all German territory east of the Rhine.

Boniface, in his whole-hearted desire to convert the German people, destroyed the sacred oak of their pagan God, Thor.  Witnesses claimed at the first stroke of the axe, a mighty wind came down and felled the ancient oak. Many were converted to Christianity through the  brave action of Boniface.  A popular legend in Germany is that the traditional Christmas Tree began with this event. It is said that Boniface urged all who were present to take home a fir tree in celebration.  The evergreen symbolized peace, immortality, and praise to the Christian God.

Community of Jesus Cloister

The Feast of Pentecost

-From the Greek Pentekostos or Fiftieth Day

When the Day of Pentecost had come, they (the chosen disciples and Mary, the Mother of Jesus) were all together in one place. And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting.  Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them.  All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability.   Acts 2:2-4

 It was an amazing display of God’s creative power:  wind, fire, and a musical cacophony of many languages. But it was so much more than an event, an anomaly to be discussed, misunderstood, and sometimes discredited, by the gathering crowd of pilgrim Jews.  Thousands were in Jerusalem to celebrate the feast of Shavuot, which honors spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai.  Peter, often first to seize the moment, raised his voice and addressed the crowd.  He quoted the prophet Joel, who some 850 years prior, described the coming of this day:  And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.  And also on My menservants and on My maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days. It was an important and necessary component to the fulfillment of Jesus’ death and resurrection.   God united Christian followers then and forever by sending the Holy Spirit to fill their hearts.  A foundation was laid for His church; indeed, some refer to Pentecost as the birthday of the church, where all find equal access to the gifts of the spirit and all that His love offers.

Pentecost Icon – Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

 

A Practical Beauty

Why do birds sing? And why do they have so many brilliant colors and subtle markings? Take the warblers, for example. Page after page of different kinds in the bird guide; pine warbler, yellow warbler, blackburnian, chestnut-sided, black and white…. Just looking at a single page, I can barely distinguish between them. I am confident that when God created the tiny warblers, He could have given them the ability to find each other, without those bright colors and all that singing every morning. He could have created a generic warbler that would meet up with another generic warbler and raise young.

But God is not just practical. The little warblers do more than live and get their parenting done. When we just amble through the little path in the woods, our minds preoccupied with all the things we need to get done, people to contact, bills to pay, and errands to complete. Then, unexpectedly, He confronts us with the tiny warblers. We are startled by their individual melodies and their pallet of color. We think we are such hot stuff much of the time. If nothing else, we move about in a self-centered way; perhaps even thinking we own some kind of special place at the top of the created order; as if it was something we did, rather than a place we were given.

Let’s pause to reflect on a few facts: Hummingbirds – the tiniest of birds – fly all the way to Central America. Monarch butterflies migrate from Western Massachusetts to a forest of trees near Mexico City. Herring, swimming out deep in the ocean, find their way back to the same stream and pond where they were born. Wood frogs survive the cold winter by slowing their heartbeat. Their blood becomes like antifreeze, so they can almost freeze without dying. Robins have a rear toe with a tendon that locks, so they can sleep on a branch without falling off. Or consider how a frog egg becomes a tadpole breathing underwater, and eventually becomes an adult frog with four legs, that breathes air. Then again, in winter, frogs bury themselves in mud at the bottom of the pond and take in oxygen through their skin. The list is endless. The scroll rolls out, on and on, revealing the intricacy in each creature. And once again, I ask why? Perhaps because God is generous. He enjoys detail and beauty. Let us open our eyes like children, and enjoy a sense of wonder again.

St. Bede the Venerable

This past Monday, May 25th was both Memorial Day this year as well as was the Feast Day of Saint Bede the Venerable. Bede was an outstanding scholar and a man of deep faith. During the Dark Ages of Britain and Europe, he quietly shone as a bright light, as did the many monasteries that spread Christianity and learning. Bede, although a monk, was a man of great learning, a theologian, and a computus, who calculated calendar dates, in particular, that of Easter, whose date was affected by the changing date of the new moon. He also helped establish the practice of dating events from the birth of Christ, using the term, A.D. Anno Domini, in the year of our Lord. This system was observed for centuries in Europe and beyond.

Born in Northern Britain about 673, Bede was only seven when taken to the monastery, a practice of some noble families in that period. His name in Anglo-Saxon, formed on the root of bēodan “to bid, to command,” is significant because it relates to the word, obedience. As a Benedictine monk, at the twin monastery of Wearmouth-Jarrow, Bede certainly learned obedience assisting in menial tasks, so he was naturally able to bid and command others effectively.

A large part of his life included a regular schedule of prayer and singing of psalms, observance of the monastic discipline, and study of the Scriptures. Ordained as a deacon at the early age of nineteen, and as a priest at thirty, he faithfully embraced his calling. Occasionally, he traveled to other abbeys and monasteries across the British Isles. One of these was the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. Established in the 6th century, it was an important center of Celtic Christianity under Saints Aidan and Cuthbert and was a place of inspiration to him.

A skilled linguist who translated the early Church Fathers’ Latin and Greek writings, making them accessible to others, Saint Bede was also an excellent teacher. One of his students was Alcuin, who also became well-known. One of the most learned man of his time in England and Europe, Bede wrote over sixty books. The best known is The Ecclesiastical History of the English People, a fascinating historical account of those who committed themselves wholeheartedly to live a monastic life, as did Venerable Bede, or to spread Christianity among the Anglo-Saxons.

St. Bede Feast Day at the Community of Jesus

A Gift of Listening for the Feast of the Ascension

Yesterday we posted a recording of the “Serene Alleluias” from The Ascension by Olivier Messiaen on the “Gift of Listening” playlist on our YouTube channel.

Paired with beautiful imagery from the Church of the Transfiguration, this piece is a gentle aural rhapsody, depicting a soul longing for return to Heaven. Listen as you read the text which inspired this piece.
Messiaen’s L’Ascension (1932-33), a suite of four meditations on Christ’s return to Heaven, was originally composed for orchestra. Messiaen re-envisioned it for organ the following year.  This recording is the second movement of the suite, and is a true transcription of the orchestral version, calling for the same instrumental voices – flutes, strings, and woodwinds.  Because the instrument in the Church of the Transfiguration is a type of organ known as an “orchestral organ”, it contains all of the sumptuous sounds called for in the score.  This movement was inspired by and is a picture of this text: Serene Alleluias of a Soul Longing for Heaven “We beseech Thee, Almighty God, that we may in mind dwell in Heaven.”(Text from Mass for Ascension Day) Messiaen’s wife once said that his composing was never more beautiful or moving than when he was “before the Eucharist.” How true that is of this movement as we hear Messiaen call upon the sweetest and warmest sounds of the organ to make his vision audible, even employing nature itself with bird calls!