Feast Day of Saints Simon & Jude – October 29

We commemorate Saint Simon and Saint Jude, loyal apostles of Jesus, chosen not for their inherent greatness, but as a priceless gift from God.

Simon, mentioned in all four of the Gospels, was called “the Zealot” and was part of a sect that practiced extreme Jewish nationalism. As such, he participated in illegal actions, including the assassination of those against the cause of Jewish independence.  Once converted to Christ, Simon turned his zeal toward the spreading of the gospel to all who would listen.

Jude, also known as Thaddeus, is mentioned in Matthew, Mark, and the Book of Acts. Some scholars believe he wrote the book of Jude, while others dispute his authorship. Saint Jude Thaddaeus (so named to distinguish him from Judas Iscariot) has an enviable lineage. He and

St. James the Lesser were brothers, he was Mary’s nephew and a cousin of the Lord.  Matthew 13:55 describes Jesus as the carpenter’s son, the son of Mary and brother (cousin) to James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas, referring to Jude Thaddeus.

Both were present at Pentecost and received the Holy Spirit.  Simon then went to preach in Egypt, Jude Thaddaeus in Mesopotamia. Eventually, they became an evangelizing team throughout the Middle East, and if tradition is correct, were martyred together circa 65 AD in Beirut, in the then Roman province of Syria.

A few points of interest:

• Some believe St. Jude was the bridegroom at the Cana wedding feast.
• St. Jude is Patron Saint of lost causes and desperate situations.
• St. Simon is mentioned only four times in the Bible.
• St. Simon is Patron Saint of curriers, sawyers, and tanners.

 

Dolphins

A phrase leaped out at me during the Lauds service on Sunday: “Dolphins and all sea creatures, bless the Lord.” It is from “The Canticle of the Three Young Men” (better known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who went into the fiery furnace) in the Book of Daniel, Chapter 3.

How do dolphins bless the Lord? I know how they bless me. Their playful dance-like movements make me smile. Their acrobatic high jumps out of the water make me gasp. I was delighted when I saw three swim offshore recently in perfect synchronization. I have no trouble believing that God, the Creator, is blessed by his creatures the dolphins.

What about us?  What can I do to bless the Lord?  I used to think it was being good, doing the right thing, producing the perfect widget or piece of art. (And then, realizing this was impossible, gave up entirely). I have something to learn from dolphins. Like the lilies, I suspect they neither “toil nor spin,” and I doubt if any of them secretly wants to be a unicorn or a hippo. They are creatures of God, content to swim in the ocean, unaware they give joy to bystanders like me, in a boat or offshore. If I can be me, without pretensions, freely living my life as it unrolls before me, I can stand before a loving God, who knows all and sees all, and expect to bless, as I am being blessed.

Towering O’er the Wrecks of Time

Though the title line is referring to “the Cross of Christ [in which] I glory” the reference to time – wrecks or no – is both poetic and evocative enough to be reflective of the cycles of seasons and rounds of the year within our bell tower.  To begin with, this most recent time of year gratefully calls up chronological time, being that the bell tower construction and bell installations were completed in July / August 2009.  Ringing lessons began right away, giving just enough time for a band of home ringers to pull ropes safely at the first public ringing on the feast of St. Michael and all Angels, Sept. 29th.  These dates and events are recalled each year, and particularly this year as we approach the 10th anniversary.

 

 

 

What’s more, celebrating the passage of seasons is built into tower life, whether in doing special ringing (here a quarter-peal band to mark St. Michael’s)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Or in sharing in summer bounty at the homes of friends who come ring with us when here on the Cape.

 

 

 

 

 

The other inescapable facet of time in change-ringing comes is that as soon as one can ring safely and advances to ringing in a circle of other ringers, from that point on one is essentially counting and clocking for each pull.  It is only one of the many mental/physical elements in ringing, all of which have to be learned and developed, but for good ringing, it is constant and inexorable.

The last “towering” thought does examine the “wrecks of time.”  By no means unique to bell-ringing, but the physical, mental, and above all emotional demands and requirements over the long haul is always going to assure a long and distinguished list of former bell ringers.  It’s true in every tower.  Yet to those who by some alchemy (grace?) of time and circumstance manage to persevere, the “bane and blessing, pain and pleasure” do bring a richness both for themselves and for the many listeners.

 

Feast of St. Luke – October 18

Born in Antioch, Syria, Roman Empire, some scholars maintain Saint Luke was of Greek descent. Others say Luke was a Hellenic Jew; that is, his beliefs and approach combine Jewish religious traditions with elements of Greek culture and language.  Tradition presents him as the only Gentile Christian among the four Gospel writers.

The Gospel of Luke has considerable appeal to Gentile readers. His writing style is narrative and conveys a perspective that we share – he views the events, not as an eyewitness, but as someone searching and transformed by what he hears. Of the four Gospel writers, only Luke talks of shepherds and angels and an inn with no room. Only his Gospel incorporates the personal testimony of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the importance of her example. Saint Luke’s Gospel has been referred to as The Gospel of Mercy, Gospel of the Poor, and the Gospel of Joy – a reflection of a heart tuned by God.

Saint Luke is also credited with writing The Acts of the Apostles. When Combined with his Gospel, Luke contributed over a quarter of the New Testament text. In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, he refers to Luke as a physician (a Greek word meaning one who heals), and from that reference, we infer he was both a disciple of Paul and a physician by trade. We also have Paul’s word that Luke was in Rome with him near the end of his life.

An 8th Century Christian tradition proclaimed Saint Luke to be the first icon painter.  Iconic works of Jesus, Mary, Peter, and Paul, as well as an illustrated gospel book are attributed to him, unproven but worthy of consideration.

Saint Luke is honored as Patron Saint of Artists, Physicians, Bachelors, Surgeons, and Students.

Feast Day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr – October 17th

Today we celebrate in remembrance of Saint Ignatius of Antioch. He was born May 15, 35 A.D., in the Province of Syria, then part of the Roman Empire.  He called himself Theophorus, meaning God-Bearer.  We know him as the writer of seven letters, each one a treasure of encouragement, instruction and inspiration to young Christian communities.

A letter went to each of the following:  the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.  In his letters, Ignatius stressed the concepts of the deity of Christ, ecclesiology, the value of the Eucharist, and the theology of salvation. Many believe the epistles, which contain multiple grammatical errors, were composed in haste as Ignatius journeyed to Rome as a prisoner, marching to his death.

There is little written history concerning Ignatius, but many traditions surround this exemplary servant of God. One such tradition is that he was among the children that Jesus took in his arms and blessed (Luke, Chapter 18.) He was said to be a disciple of the beloved Apostle John, and some scholars claim that he was consecrated Bishop of Antioch by the Apostle Peter.

Trajan, Emperor of Rome, issued the order for Ignatius’s arrest and subsequent death.  Trajan, a blood-thirsty tyrant, was said to have sacrificed 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 wild beasts to entertain one equally blood-thirsty crowd.  While the exact date of Ignatius’ martyrdom is unknown, he died circa 108 A.D., at the age of 83. Condemned for nothing more than loving Christ and refusing to renounce his faith, he was cruelly attacked and devoured by wild beasts in a public display.  Upon hearing the roar of the lions in Rome’s Coliseum, the saint proclaimed, “I am a kernel of wheat for Christ that must be ground by the teeth of beasts to be found bread wholly pure.”

Feast Day of Simeon the God-receiver

Luke, Chapter 2:25-35 recalls the story of Simeon, a devout and holy man who believed in and waited for the consolation of Israel. Simeon, whose name in Hebrew means “obedient, listening,” was the recipient of a promise. The Holy Spirit assured him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Christ. When Mary and Joseph presented Jesus in the temple, as the custom of the Law required, it was Simeon who, with an old man’s gentleness, took the baby in his arms.

His beautiful canticle, known today as the Nunc Dimittis, reminds us of God’s faithfulness to the obedience of love. In awe and gratitude, Simeon declared, “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word. For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; to be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.”

Simeon, a quiet man of faith and obedience, held a baby in his arms and sang a lullaby to the Son of God.

Feast Day of St. Francis – October 4th

Today we celebrate the feast day of The Poverello (poor little man), a beloved saint, small in stature and large of heart. St. Francis of Assisi was born in Italy around 1181 or 1182. His father, Pietro di Bernardone, was a cloth merchant and his mother Lady Pica, probably of French descent. Pietro was in France on business when his son was born. Lady Pica named their son Giovanni, but upon his return from France, his father changed the name to Francesco. Many believe the name change was in honor of his mother’s heritage.

Francesco was a charismatic youth, had a great zest for life, and was a leader among his peers.  He received a good education and was able to read and write in Latin, and could read and converse in French as well, although not fluently. In 1202, Francis fought in a war between Assisi and Perugia and was taken captive. He was held prisoner for almost a year, and when finally released, in a feeble condition. A dream (or vision) to return to Assisi prevented him from joining yet another battle. Upon his arrival in Assisi, he devoted himself to solitude and fervent prayer that he would know God’s will for his life.

Francis made a pilgrimage to Rome, dressed in rags so that he might experience the life of a beggar seeking alms before St. Peter’s Basilica. Francis himself gave alms to a leper and despite a deep personal aversion toward lepers, kissed the man’s diseased hand.

Francis renounced both family ties and worldly goods in order to embrace a life of poverty. His deepest heart’s desire was to emulate the life of Christ and to follow the teachings of the gospel; that is, embracing with joy and humbleness of heart all that Jesus said and did.

A simple man, he lived an extraordinary life. He was a preacher, teacher, Founder of two religious orders and imitator of Christ in the highest sense of the word. He referred to poverty as “his bride,” and respected all nature as the reflection of God. To this fragile man, weakened by illness and self-denial, all creatures were his “brothers” and “sisters.”  Today, he is the Patron Saint of Ecology.

In 1224, Francis received the stigmata, the wounds of the crucified Christ, the first saint in history to do so. On October3, 1226, he died a young man of 44, partially blind and in great pain. To his last breath, he lived the essence of his own prayer, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light, and where there is sadness, joy.

 

And all the Bunnies said…Amen!

 

I’ve grown softer in my old age and cry over simple things. Conversely, I become stronger in old age, traveling to problems I used to leave for someone else. Let me tell you a story, a real and recent one. A month or so ago, we experienced a flash flood in our little town on Cape Cod. I didn’t think much of it, watching out the window, but when water began pouring in the basement, I joined the group of The Alarmed. The Convent was well cared for by several sisters, so I grabbed a raincoat, and sloshed my way to the church to help there. As one group fought bravely with push brooms, another gathered towels for plugging door leaks, and a third hooked up sump pumps. One sister was feeding a drainage hose out a window and yelled to me, “Don’t look! There are dead bunnies out there!” I confess I looked and got my heart broken. Five tiny guys had washed up and out of their burrow and lie in a twisted heap, pelted by wind and cold rain.

Let me say right now, I’m not brave. I’m terrified of lightning and the sound of thunder that follows it. I heard myself say, “We can’t just leave them there!” And then hopefully listened for volunteers. My sister-friend said she’d help me. Help me. Okay, better than nothing. I grabbed two pairs of plastic “dentist” gloves to protect against disease, two baggies and a new trash bag – my idea of recovery equipment. First at the scene, I discovered two of the bunnies were alive. It was now a rescue operation, and I shouted the good news. The other sister ran to get a box, while I made a make-shift tent with the baggies. I cried like a baby as I waited. I cried, prayed, and waited, flinching at every lightning bolt. I was Scarlett O’Hara scratching the barren earth for food, fist raised to the heavens, vowing to never give up. Eventually, my friend returned, the box complete with air holes and lined with a soft towel. I gently picked up the two living bunnies and put them inside. The others I just as carefully placed in the garbage bag, respecting them in death as best I could and took them inside the warm church building.

We called Charlie, a man known for his kindness toward all creatures, and he agreed to take our little survivors to the animal rescue center. As I waited for Charlie to arrive, I continued my prayer vigil, promising the two bunnies Jesus loved them and they were safe. Slowly, to my amazement (forget my prayer bravado), the two little fellows revived.

Sometime after Charlie left, we noticed movement in the trash bag. Two more bunnies, thought to be deceased, had responded to the warm environment. Charlie graciously returned and made a second trip to the animal shelter. All four babies were treated for hypothermia and adopted by someone willing to eye-dropper feed them. We’re told they’re doing well and on their way to full recovery. Stormy, Flash, Thunder, and Reign – we wish you long life and all the best and may your sibling, Sunbeam, rest in peaceful slumber.

 

Transcendence

In this passage about prayer from Ronald Rolheiser’s book, Sacred Fire, the words seem to articulate unconscious thoughts swirling in the back regions of my brain. It’s from a section of the book about prayer in which Fr. Rolheiser poses a question we all face from time to time. He writes:

“We all have our moments of chaos and crisis. Loss, death, sickness, disappointment, hurt, loneliness, hatred, jealousy, obsession, fear—these come into our lives and often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the darkness they cause….How can we pull ourselves out of the dark chaos they put us into?”

I’m sure most of us can relate on some level to this dark chaos, the slippery slope that seems to have no ladder out, only pathways to more darkness. Fr. Rolheiser suggests we too naturally try to climb out or resolve the chaos ourselves, often to our detriment:

“Sometimes when we try to pray when hurting, the prayer serves not to uproot the hurt and obsession, but to root them even more deeply in self-pity, self-preoccupation, and over-concentration. We end up further letting go of God’s Spirit and, instead, giving in to more panic, fear, chaos, bitterness, obsession, and resentment…it is important that our prayer be focused upon God and not upon ourselves…we must force ourselves to focus upon God or Jesus or upon some aspect of transcendent mystery.”

I find hope in Fr. Rolheiser’s simple wisdom to “force” my prayers away from myself and onto God. However large or small my prayer offering may be, in the difficult choice to force my thoughts upon Jesus, this becomes a way of letting go of darkness and a way of recognizing His transcendence. In recognizing my inability to save myself, I’m given a path in which Jesus promises to carry me out of my dark chaos.

 

Feast of St. Matthew – September 21st

“Follow me.”  These two simple words transformed the life of Levi, Son of Alphaeus, to Matthew, a beloved apostle of our Lord Jesus. Levi was a publican or Jewish agent of the despised Roman Empire. He was hated and mistrusted by his fellow Jews and thought of as a traitor. He often sat by the customs house in Capernaum, collecting taxes from the Jewish people for Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee. Then Jesus ridiculed and criticized for associating with sinners, and the worst of Hebrew society called him as one of his own.

Matthew, the name given by Jesus, translates as Yahweh’s Gift. When invited to join the disciples, he renounced all worldly possessions and committed himself wholeheartedly to following the Lord. He even re-paid all those he had cheated. Matthew remained steadfast and faithful throughout his life. After Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, he was among those chosen to teach and spread the gospel. Much of his teaching took place in Palestine. There it is said he wrote his account of the life of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew.

He died near the present day country of Ethiopia and his remains entombed in the crypt of Salerno Cathedral in southern Italy. In Christian art, Matthew is sometimes depicted with a winged man, one of the four living creatures mentioned in Revelation 4:7 and further described as those who worship and praise God day and night. Matthew left behind all that defined him, made amends, and followed Jesus to the end.