Pearls in the Pigpen

When I was a small girl living in Pennsylvania farm country, I begged my father for a little pig. I went so far as to say I just loved little pigs. He was a man of wisdom and suspected how long that particular fascination would last. “I’ll tell you what,” he replied. “Christmas is coming. Why don’t you ask Santa to bring you a pig?”

I replied without hesitation, “Oh, I already asked Santa Claus and he doesn’t have any little pigs.”  Touché, mon père!  Bested by a conniving three-year- old with her eye on a Betty Crocker Junior Oven. Just as well, because I later discovered pigs smell terrible.

But let’s consider pigs for a moment. I know of two Biblical instances where they played an integral part in the general discourse. From Matthew 7:6, Do not throw your pearls before swine. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces. The second reference is found in Matthew 8:31, where demons pleaded with Jesus, “If you drive us out, send us into that herd of swine.”

The swine promptly dove over a cliff, demons and all. These two verses tell us pigs have difficulty discerning value and they’ll ingest just about anything!

The verses do, of course, contain important truths. In the first instance, we’re cautioned about what we choose to share and with whom. I try to follow two self-made rules:  don’t confide what isn’t fully life in me, nor what another may not understand and become a stumbling block to them. Our pearls can be quite the opposite to someone else. I confess I’m too often swine-like, the one who says carelessly, “What’s the big deal?  or “Oh by the way, you know your new coat?  I saw the same one on sale, half price.” I sometimes inappropriately speak too soon about a personal conviction and end up misunderstood and confused.  I can rob joy, incite jealousy, inspire anxiety, obliterate a friendship, or badly mishandle a situation simply by what I say.  Or don’t say.

We’re often the recipients of wonderful words of love and encouragement.  We must cherish them as pearls of great price.  We’re the guardians of such gifts to others that require wisdom, a second thought, and gentle participation.

Feast Day of Benedict of Nursia, Abbot — July 11

Saint Benedict was the son of a Roman noble of Nursia, in Umbria, a region of Central Italy. While there isn’t extensive biographical information on the life of Benedict, there is a clear and well-defined “spiritual portrait” of this Godly man. He was a compassionate, disciplined abbot, a worker of miracles and respected for his holy way of life. His motto and golden rule? Ora et Laborapray and work. He believed each day should be divided in this way: eight hours of prayer, eight hours of sleep, and eight hours of manual work, sacred reading, and works of charity.

Benedict left home in 500 AD at the age of twenty, abandoning both his literary studies and his carefree, dissolute lifestyle. He was sent to Rome to study and then afterward, was to assume his expected career as a Roman noble. However, he grew unhappy and dissatisfied with life there. Taking with him only his old nurse as a servant, he withdrew to a place of solitude. He met by chance a monk, Romanus of Subiaco, whose influence led Benedict to become a hermit. For three years he lived in a cave beneath the Monastery of Subiaco. Benedict’s cave became known as Sacro Speco (Holy Cave or Grotto of Prayers.)  There, forgoing human companionship, he matured in both mind and character.

In time and with reluctance, Benedict agreed to become abbot of a small, neighboring monastery. He knew in his heart that “their manners were diverse from his and therefore, they would never agree together.” Yet they were so insistent, he eventually gave consent. The monks grew to hate Benedict’s regimen with such intensity that they plotted his murder. They offered him a glass of poisoned wine. According to witnesses, when he made the sign of the cross over the wine glass, as was the custom, it shattered, spilling the wine upon the floor.  Benedict, for his part, called his monks together and said he forgave them. He reminded them of his own doubts from the beginning.  His final words to them were, “Go your ways and seek some other father suitable to your own conditions, for I intend not now to stay any longer amongst you.”

Perhaps Benedict was too strict with his first monks or perhaps they were simply unsuited for his leadership. Regardless, years later, Benedict wrote a rule of life that remains a model of monastic moderation.  He performed signs and wonders, calling forth water from a rock, raising the dead, and other miracles. Yet it is his rule that earned him the title “Founder of Western Christian Monasticism.”  His seventy-three short chapters comprise wisdom of two kinds: spiritual (how to live a Christ-centered life) and administrative (how to run an efficient monastery.)  The Rule of Saint Benedict is a balance of practical moderation without compromise.  He understood the difficulties inherent in differences of age, capabilities, dispositions and spiritual needs. He said, “In drawing up these regulations, we hope to set down nothing harsh, nothing burdensome.” Knowing himself and having suffered throughout his life, he made allowance for weaknesses and failure, as well as mercy for the physically unable.

 

 

“Look To”

Our bell tower at the Church of the Transfiguration is at ground level, making it quite easy to view the bells being rung. In addition, there are glass doors through which you may observe.

If you ever have an opportunity to experience changing bells about to ring, you may hear the words, “Look to, treble’s going, she’s gone!” These words are spoken by the person ringing the treble bell (bell #1), the bell that weighs the least. “Look to” is the alert for all bells to prepare to ring; this includes the treble bell ringer making sure that all ringers are holding their ropes and that every rope is in the hands of a ringer.

At “Treble’s going”, every ringer adjusts their bell so that it’s on the balance, which means they won’t need to pull the bell overly hard to begin the process of it ringing. It will be ready to go at the slightest pull. Each ringer’s attention is on the two bells in front of them so they can “place” their bell, that is, have their bell ring exactly at the proper time so it sounds the way it should.

When “She’s gone” is called, the treble bell will pull their rope for the first ring, and each bell will follow consecutively. The larger bells take longer to ring than the smaller ones, so this needs to be taken into consideration.

We hope the next time you visit Cape Cod, you’ll include the Church of the Transfiguration and its unique bell tower on your itinerary.  And you can listen for those very important words, “Look to, treble’s going, she’s gone!”

Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle — July 3

Saint Thomas, apostle, preacher, and Christian martyr was born in the First Century AD, in Galilee, Roman Empire (present-day Israel.) The Patron Saint of India, he died on Saint Thomas Mount, Ramapuram, India, in Seventy-two AD. According to legend, Thomas was reluctant to accept his mission to preach the gospel in India. Then one night, the Lord appeared to him in a vision and said, “Fear not, Thomas. Go to India and proclaim the Word, for my grace shall be with you.” His ministry resulted in many conversions throughout the kingdom, including the king and his brother.

Thomas was an ordinary man who led an extraordinary life because he was chosen to walk by Jesus’ side. He was heart-wrenching in his clumsiness, his impetuosity, and his flagrant unbelief.

He declared to the other disciples, “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” John 20:25b

A week later, as the disciples once again gathered, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Speaking to Thomas directly, he offered these words: “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas replied without hesitation,”My Lord and My God!” Why had he not believed earlier? Was he jealous of the other disciples and a missed opportunity, angry that things hadn’t turned out as he hoped, or perhaps afraid of being hurt again?

Now and forever known as Doubting Thomas, he opened the way for Jesus to encourage all of us who followed. “Because you have seen me, Thomas, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

Cloister Saint, The Community of Jesus — St. Thomas

Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul — Friday, June 29

Each man has his own feast day.  Why then, do we celebrate the third feast, honoring both men together?  According to legend, both died as martyrs on the same day at the command of the Roman Emperor Nero. Because Saint Paul was a Roman citizen, he was executed by beheading;  Peter, a Jewish peasant, was crucified. Considering himself unworthy to die in the same manner as Christ, he asked to be crucified upside down.

Peter, originally named Simon, was a fisherman of Galilee. Jesus gave him the new name Cephas (Petrus in Latin.) Peter, His rock upon which He would build His Church, was both a bold and passionate follower. Impetuous, opinionated and head-strong, Peter none-the-less was chosen as shepherd of God’s flock and head of the Church.

Paul also received a new name. He was Saul, a Jewish Pharisee, and persecutor of Christians. His conversion along the road to Damascus, blindness and the subsequent return of his sight, led him to take the new name, Paul. In Hebrew, Paul means small or humble. He later earned the title “Apostle of the Gentiles”. His letters are an important tool of the New Testament, teaching us not only about his life, but the faith of the early Church.

We honor two strong and worthy men, one a fisherman, the other a well-educated Roman citizen. Both were impulsive by nature and tireless in their work as they proclaimed the gospel and shared  God’s love for mankind.

From a sermon of Leo the Great: About their merits and virtues, let us not make distinctions or draw comparisons; for both were chosen, they were alike in their labors, they were partners in death.

Peter and Paul, whom the grace of God has raised to such a height among all the members of the Church that He has set them like twin lights of eyes in that Body whose head is Christ.

Saints Peter and Paul – Community of Jesus, Cloister

Feast of St. Irenaeus — Thursday, June 28

Irenaeus was a Christian of Greek descent, born 130 AD in Smyrna (Modern-day Izmir, Turkey.)  He served as Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, now Lyon, France, and died there in 202 AD. A noted theologian, he was a disciple of Polycarp, who in turn was a disciple of John the Evangelist.

Remembered as the first great “systematic theologian”, Irenaeus combatted the heresies of his time, foremost of which was Gnosticism. In its simplest form, Gnosticism taught that humans are divine souls, trapped in the material world, the world having been made by an imperfect spirit. The root word Gnosis means “knowledge from experience.” To counter such false teachings, Irenaeus defined orthodoxy. He championed three pillars of orthodoxy: the scriptures, tradition inherited from the apostles, and the teaching of the apostles’ successors. He was one of the first to recognize all four gospels as equal and essential to the Christian life. His writings, first in Greek and then translated to Latin, were well circulated and succeeded in quelling the expansion of Gnosticism.

Irenaeus placed great emphasis on the unity of God and the unity of salvation history. He insisted that “in the beginning, God created…” and has been overseeing His creation ever since. God viewed humanity as immature creatures, requiring a long period of maturation, eventually growing into His divine likeness.

Saint Irenaeus explored the depths of Christian theology and epitomized the modern adage “The best defense is a good offense.” His preparation included in-depth studies of Christ as the New Adam, the life of Christ, apostolic authority, Paul’s Epistles, and the Millennium to name a few.  But at the center of his theology are two indispensable truths: all that we encounter in life helps achieve spiritual maturity, and all unity and goodness are of God.

 

The Nativity of John the Baptist

John the Baptist was born to elderly parents. His father, Zechariah, belonged to the priestly order of Abijah and his mother, Elizabeth, was a descendant of Aaron. Both lived blamelessly and followed the commandments and regulations of the Lord. Zechariah, while conversing with the Angel Gabriel, considered the facts and decided God was mistaken – he and Elizabeth were too old to conceive a child. He demanded a sign and God more than provided; Zechariah would be unable to speak until his son was born.  Among his first words was this beautiful canticle, recorded in Luke 1:76-79:

And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven, to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.
 

Zechariah’s words are sung each day as we close our service of Lauds. Even though June 24th is set aside as the Feast Day of John’s Nativity, we do, in fact, commemorate his birth at every Lauds service. His example of great humility, serving with love and without rancor, content to be the forerunner and the wilderness voice deserves our respect and admiration. He preached the good news at the risk of personal gain and safety, to fulfill his mission of delivering unwavering truth. May we, like John, one day say, “I am like the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, greatly rejoicing at the bridegroom’s voice. For this reason, my joy has been fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3: 29b-30

St. John the Baptist (Forerunner) – Sr. Faith Riccio, Artist

Weeds – No Problem!

There are thirty references in the Bible to weeds. No wonder. Weeding has many valuable life-lessons. It’s not my favorite part of gardening, but for me, it’s the most valuable. I was facing an impossible problem recently (having nothing to do with gardening) with no hope of solving it until I realized my problem was just another weed. I remembered what I do when a weed is too big and tenacious for me. I take out a shovel and try to pry it up. If that doesn’t work, I go around it carefully on all sides and keep loosening, removing dirt until the plant’s roots are exposed. Eventually, it pulls free. I don’t have to be strong; I just have to be persistent. I can handle my impossible problem the same way, and it doesn’t need to defeat me.

I’m not forgetting prayer in this process. That’s the grace that enables me to be persistent with weeds of any kind, whether I want to be or not. And it helps to have a vision. In the garden, it’s the beauty and fruitfulness of the plants. So next time I’m weeding, I’m going to thank God for realizing that weeds (and problems) are a  normal and necessary part of life.

A Garden with Weeds – Community of Jesus

Feast of the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration – June 17

Each year in June, we set aside a Sunday to commemorate the Dedication of the Church of the Transfiguration. The planning and vision for the church began in the early 1990’s.  Our desire was to build a church to the “glory of God.” We wanted the building itself to speak through design, art, and music. The design committees sought artists who would be willing to train some of our membership in fresco and mosaic work, so that we could participate in those installations. Many of our young people helped lay the floor of the church and the atrium. Some of the column capitals were designed by Community members. And many of us helped with the building and finishing of wood for such things as organ pipes and choir stalls.

I remember our prioress telling us that through the process of building the church, God would do a work of building in us as well. It didn’t take long to see what she meant.  It required sacrificial giving far beyond what we could understand at the outset. We had to throw ourselves on the mercy and goodness of God to accomplish such a task, and there were so many miracles along the way. We worked days, weekends, and late into the evenings. We worked in teams, which drew us closer together and kept our spirit strong. It was indeed true that we were under construction just as much as the church!

On the day of dedication, the building was basically a shell of mortar and limestone.  The art installations of fresco, mosaic, and glass would happen during the ten years that followed. But the plan was well underway. We could look into the future and know God would bring it to completion.

Sometimes I sit in the church and just enjoy the beauty of the art, especially the image of Jesus in the apse. We wanted the church to be a beautiful work for God, and in the process, we came to experience the immensity of God: His Generosity, His Mercy for each of us, and the largeness of what He wants for the world beyond our walls. There are, in fact, no walls that could contain the Love He has for us. And so here we are in Orleans, Massachusetts. Just one group of people in the body of Christ, trying to do as God asks, trying to become His hands and feet in this place.  Dedication Day is a remembrance of the past and a commitment to the future.

Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

The Paradox of Age

I was a Girl Scout once, and a pretty good one. I especially took to heart the Scouts’ long-standing motto, Be Prepared. You see, I was – am – an introvert with a busy inner life (code for obsessive worrier) and being prepared for everything seemed like great advice. Be Prepared worked well for me until I approached seventy. Nothing could prepare me for seventy and a straight-up calculation of remaining years, creaking knees, and escaping memories. I function much better when I grab pen and paper to categorize my musings. Here are my loosely poetic thoughts on growing older:

Creation. God’s intention.
Every leaf, every star.
Everything was made to be
With purpose and effect.
No accident, me, as I am
As I shall become,
When age reconfigures
My original composition.
Lower energy,
Increased wisdom.
Eyes that see less clearly,
And yet more clearly
At the same time.
Accept what I must.
Change what I can.
Make a strong finish,
With love and joy.