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.

The Confession of Saint Peter — January 18

Jesus asked, “But what about you?” And Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.”  Matthew 16:15-17

Peter listened, heard, and reacted, just as he had when first called to discipleship. His legacy is that of a man of flesh, capable of a bold declaration of belief and equally capable of losing faith in a moment of fear and weakness.  Luke 22:54-62 describes Peter’s denial of the Lord he loved and followed: “Woman, I do not know him.” And he denied not once, but three times. Still he is the rock upon which Christ built His church and to whom He gave the keys to the kingdom of heaven. 

Today we love and honor Peter for his humanness, his weakness made strong through faith, and his life restored by forgiveness. 

Saint Peter

Saint Antony of Egypt, Bishop — January 17th

Known as Antony the Great, he was born to wealth, an Egyptian monk, who exemplified scripture, “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor.” Mark 10:21b

Antony’s long life spanned the years 251AD – 356AD, and he spent much of that time as a solitary ascetic, practicing personal mortification, devotion to prayer, and manual labor.  He was, however, not an antisocial man, and many people sought him out for spiritual guidance and healing.

If we trace his life in years lived, we arrive at the following:

Age 20 Began to practice asceticism

Age 35 Withdrew to absolute solitude on a mountain along the
The Nile named Pispir (now Dayr al-Maymun)

Age 54 Ended his retreat and organized the monastic life of
nearby like-minded hermits

Age 60 Desired to be a martyr in the Roman persecution
of Christians, exposing himself to danger

Age 88 An ardent soldier against the Arian heresy

Age 105 Died of natural causes in a cave on Mt. Kolzim, Egypt

Saint Antony was a Holy Man who lived a holy life. As a result of his example, many adopted an ascetic lifestyle, and Antony earned the title Father of Monasticism. Perhaps the greatest achievement of this quiet, shy man was his ability to inspire the love of God and the assurance of a joyful life without fear.

Community of Jesus

 

Bells Ringing – A Christmas Meditation

Imagine yourself sitting on the side of a hill. The sun has just set, and the stars are appearing. One by one they appear, until all you can see are tiny sparkles, filling an endless black sky. Though you don’t yet know it, you are witness to a new era.

It is a peaceful night, and you can hear your sheep softly calling one another, as you marvel at the stars. Your friends build a fire, and you get up to help them. Minutes later, a blazing fire warms you and your supper of bread, broth, and meat. You eat, filling your belly as you talk with friends, all the while keeping an eye on the sheep.

After the meal, you decide who will take the first watch; then, you lie back on the earth. The ground cover is soft and cool. Just as you drift off to sleep, a blinding light flashes above you. Confused, you sit up and shield your eyes from the too brilliant light.  You hear melodious voices, angelic voices, singing praises to God and glorifying Him. With deafening beauty, they tell you to go to Bethlehem, and in a manger, you will find the Christ Child. The lights and voices vanish.

In shock, you look around and see your friends equally so. Together you decide you must do what the heavenly lights and voices have ordained. Shepherds and sheep journey to Bethlehem.

Upon reaching the town, you find a young mother and father cradling a baby. They took shelter in a manger, surrounded by livestock. You are blessed to play a part in this strange and beautiful tableau and sense something special about the child.

Two-thousand years later, we have bells and their joyous calling to remind us of the angels’ song. The angels’ song that brought the shepherds to the Christ Child…and the ever-present angels’ song emanating from our bell tower, call us back to God.  During Christmas ringing, we remember the shepherds and the angels’ visit that stand as holy examples of praise, obedience, and blessing.

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, France — January 13

BISHOP AND dOCTOR OF THE CHURCH

Saint Hilary was the son of wealthy pagan parents, born c. 300 AD. He was the recipient of an excellent education and had a keen mind. Although raised a pagan, Hilary questioned the concept of revering many gods. He began a quest to discover the one true God in Holy Scripture, and there, in the Gospels, he found Jesus. He believed the Lord’s teachings, became a Christian and was baptized.

Hilary was a gentle and mild man, but unafraid to fight for and defend Christianity when necessary. His primary weapon was the pen and his enemy, the 4th Century scourge of Arianism, a heresy that refuted the Divinity of Christ. In the year 353 AD, even though already a husband and father, he was appointed Bishop of Poitiers.  As Bishop, he embraced celibacy and dedicated his remaining years to the Church. He staunchly defended the decrees of Nicaea and preached the doctrine of salvation through Jesus as the Son of God. His stance displeased the Roman Emperor Constantine II, who exiled Saint Hilary to present-day Turkey. During his four-year exile, Hilary composed books, hymns, and sermons in support of his faith and in defense of the Blessed Trinity. He is considered the earliest hymnist.  

At the end of his exile, he returned to Poitiers. There in the town square, the faithful gathered to welcome him home. This kind and affable man continued his writing and preaching until his death in 368. Saint Hilary, highly respected for his humility and intelligence, was named a Doctor of the Church in 1851 by Pope Pius IX.

Feast of the Baptism of the Lord – January 12

Christmas, Epiphany, the Baptism of our Lord, and the Cana Wedding miracle are manifestations of that which the prophets foretold and the fulfillment of God’s promises to His creation.  At the manger, we find the very human birth of the Word; God made flesh to dwell among us.  Star-led Epiphany illustrates Christ’s availability to all people and nations, and at the Jordan River, Jesus joined the gathering of those baptized by His cousin, John. On Him alone, the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “you are my Son, whom I love; with you, I am well pleased.” Luke 3:22, 23. 

This most blessed season is summed up beautifully by hymnist Christopher Wordsworth, who wrote:

Songs of thankfulness and praise,
Jesus, Lord, to thee we raise;
Manifested by the star
To the sages from afar,
Branch of royal David’s stem
In thy birth at Bethlehem;
Anthems be to thee addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

Manifest at Jordan’s stream,
Prophet, priest, and king supreme;
And at Cana wedding guest
In thy Godhead manifest;
Manifest in power divine,
Changing water into wine;
Anthems be to thee addressed,
God in flesh made manifest.

 

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 the Holy Innocents — December 28th

The story of the Holy Innocents originates in the time of Herod, or as he was sometimes called “the Great Herod.”  In his younger years, he was a skillful administrator who lived a balancing act between the Romans and the people of Judea. He was able to undertake and accomplish large building projects, including a harbor on the Mediterranean. In contrast, during his lifetime, he had ten wives and several sons. While his political savvy was considerable, his home life was a growing disaster. His sons grew up competing with each other for the future throne. Herod killed three of his sons, put to death one of his wives and one of his mothers-in-law, and some cousins. At one point he planned to fill an entire stadium (the Hippodrome ) with Jews and put them to death. As Herod aged, he became increasingly paranoid and removed from reality. He struggled with several illnesses, all the while afraid no one would mourn his death.

Herod learned about the birth of a future king from Wise Men traveling from the East. Deceitfully, he told them that he wanted to know the location of the child so that he, too, could come and celebrate the royal birth. The wise men, however, were warned by an angel to depart by another way, after worshipping the baby Jesus. They never returned to Herod, which infuriated him. In his rage, Herod ordered that all male children two years and younger be slaughtered in Bethlehem and “in all the region.”

Scholars have argued about the number of murdered infants; some traditions say hundreds and some thousands, perhaps between ten and twenty, by estimating the population in the area. Whatever the number, the helpless infants became the first martyrs.

Afterward, Herod became completely paranoid in his determination to hold on to his throne. Even his own family were not safe. His jealousy ruled him and eliminated anyone and anything he perceived as a threat.

We could take a look around the world today and see any number of leaders who have acted in similar ways. We see dictators and regimes, where killings and poisonings occur.

It’s easy to scan the surface of world politics. But what about our personal politics? How do we move and function in the group of people with whom we live and work? What are the ways we hold on to a particular position, or territory, or a certain way of performing our duties? How many innocents fall prey to our tyranny? I think of Jesus, who laid down His rightful claim as the Son of God, born as a helpless baby into our hands. He did not hold on but let go so that God’s promises might be fulfilled. 

To the thousands of innocents who gave their lives, tiny peacemakers, soldiers of righteousness, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Matthew 5:8

Bronze sculpture by Daphne du Barry, depicting Mary and Innocents

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.