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.

 

Feast of the Holy Cross – September 14

Today we venerate the Holy Cross upon which our Savior died to redeem us from sin.  We recognize this intended instrument of torture as the blessed instrument of our salvation, a simple, wooden cross made triumphant by an outpouring of innocent Love.

The Feast of the Holy Cross, sometimes referred to as The Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, honors three events. The first and most significant is the discovery of the True Cross by Saint Helena, mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine. Saint Helena traveled to Jerusalem in the early fourth century to search for the holy places of Christ’s earthly mission. Tradition held that a Temple to Aphrodite was built over the Savior’s tomb.  Helena had the temple razed, and Constantine construct the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher in its place.  Three crosses were found during the excavation believed to be the Cross of Christ and those of the two thieves crucified with Him. All three appeared much the same; however, legend tells us that the True Cross was identified when a dying woman touched it and was instantly healed.

 

The cross remains the universal symbol of our Christian faith.  May we find grace in its shadow and draw strength from the One who died upon its outstretched arms.

From the Hymn
Beneath the cross of Jesus

   Words by Elizabeth Clephane
Scotland, 1872

 I take, O cross, thy shadow
For my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than
The sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by,
My sinful self my only shame,
      My glory all the cross.    

 

Doors and Shutters  

Our tower here in Orleans has several sets of doors and shutters. These doors open for service ringing, and close, both to dampen the sound for practice and to protect the bells inside from the weather.

The first set of doors at ground level are transparent on all four sides of the tower. The doors fold open and closed to let ringers in and out. The doors are large and heavy, over several months the tower keeper rotates which set of doors will open and close for regular ringing in order to balance the loads on the door hinges.

Above, a hatch lowers and a ladder unfolds.

        

The bell ropes are stored on the first floor where a pair of color-coded cables connect to shutters near the top of the tower. Pulling on the red cable opens the shutters before ringing, letting the sound of the bells pour out of the tower on all 4 sides.

Above the shutters, a pair of bulkhead doors controlled by motors open skyward allowing the bells to echo off the ceiling, through large steel grates across the community.

My favorite doors, perhaps, more “portals” than doors, are for the ropes connected to the bells above. The ropes lower and raise between each ringing session through 10 holes in the floor. When the ropes are coiled up and stored, each portal is plugged with a green rubber stopper affectionately called “pumpkins”. The “pumpkin” stoppers help a dehumidifier control the air in the upper floor. We quickly learned, if the room above gets too humid, the ropes absorb the moisture becoming stiff and difficult to handle while ringing. The “pumpkin” name comes from an earlier improvisational version of the stoppers made from orange swimming noodles with a small black handle, resembling a pumpkin. Swimming noodles are easy to come by here on Cape Cod!

After nearly ten years of ringing here in Orleans, I know I speak for myself, but I suspect by now the tower also contains a number of invisible doors which open into the heart of each bell ringer.

Feast Day of Saint John Chrystosom – September 13th

To the Eastern Church, Saint John is known as Great Hierarch and Ecumenical Teacher, to the West, Bishop, and Doctor of the Church. To all, he is Chrystosom, meaning “golden-mouthed,” the great preacher.

Saint John was born c. 349 in the ancient Greek city of Antioch, near what is now Antakya, Turkey. His father, a high-ranking military officer, died shortly after his son’s birth. He was raised by his mother, Anthusa, sometimes referred to as a pagan but known to many as a devout Christian. Anthusa had many influential contacts, and John studied under Libanius, a gifted teacher from whom he learned skills in rhetoric as well as a great love for Greek language and literature.  John then turned to the study of theology, was baptized, and tonsured as a reader (considered the first step in becoming a priest.)

In about the year 375, Saint John became a hermit and lived a life of extreme asceticism. It is said he spent the next two years continually standing with little sleep and committed the Bible to memory. His health deteriorated as a result of such practices, and of necessity, he returned to Antioch, his body permanently weakened.

Here is the progression of St. John’s rise (and fall) through the church hierarchy after his return to Antioch:

• Ordained as a deacon in 381
• Ordained as a presbyter (priest) in 386
• Appointed against his will as Archbishop of Constantinople in 397
• Banished from his archbishopric in 403
• Exiled to the town of Cucusus in Cappadocia 404 to 407
• Sent into further exile in 407 and died during the journey

St. John was a highly educated man from a wealthy background who preferred a modest life. He emphasized care for the poor and used his considerable rhetorical skills to admonish excess found in the Church and the secular world.

He was beloved by the common folk for his deep and uncompromising understanding of scripture. His speech was eloquent and beautiful in its simplicity. Accusations of aloofness, tactlessness, and lack of political skill, were counterbalanced by his honesty, courage and sensitive heart.