As He Loved Us

I’m a great fan of the late composer and performer, John Denver. My favorite song is “Perhaps Love.” You may think I have a sentimental streak, and you could be right, but among Mr. Denver’s credentials is the title Poet Laureate of Colorado. His words are simple, profound, and down to earth. Here are some of the descriptive phrases present in his lyrics:

Perhaps Love
Is a resting place, shelter from a storm
Like a window or an open door
It can be like a cloud or strong as steel.
Sometimes love is holding on,
At other times letting go.
It can be like the ocean
Filled with conflict and pain,
Loves’ memory will bring you home.

I’ve been searching the scriptures to understand love. I know it’s essential to love and be loved to find wholeness. I pondered this verse, Ephesians 4:2, Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in Love. I fall short on all counts because of my nature and history. To love as Jesus loved is hard work that requires personal transformation and His grace.

The Dormition of Mary

On August 15th., we commemorate the death of Mary the Theotokos (Mother of God or God-bearer.) The Latin root word of Dormition is dormire, meaning “to sleep.” Mary is our example of a trusted and faithful servant of God sharing intimately in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Although scripture doesn’t record the time or manner of her death, history (or tradition) informs us that Mary remained in the care of the Apostle John and that she lived eleven years after the death of her Son. During John’s missionary journeys, she lived in the home of his parents, near the Mount of Olives. A source of consolation to all believers, Mary nurtured the fledgling Church with her prayers, conversation, and presence.

There are many traditions regarding the end of Mary’s life, but much remains a mystery. Three common themes, recorded in the Transitus Narratives, written at the turn of the 5th and 6th centuries, are that Mary was informed of her approaching death by the Angel Gabriel, that the Apostles miraculously appeared at her bedside and that Christ, Himself, came as a Child to receive and transport her soul to heaven. Sometime after the funeral and burial, the Apostles witnessed her body taken up to heaven, and reunited with her soul.

The following is a quote from a General Audience given by Pope John Paul II on June 25, 1997:

“It is more important to look for the Blessed Virgin’s spiritual attitude at the moment of her departure from this world. In this regard, St. Francis de Sales maintains that Mary’s death was due to a transport of love. He speaks of a dying ‘in love, from love, and through love.’

At the Ready

I recently attended the funeral of a friend who had served in the armed forces. At the gravesite, three young servicemen, dressed in their pristine uniforms, stood ramrod straight. With clockwork precision, they saluted and turned toward each other. In silence, and with great care, they removed the flag draping the casket. They stretched it taut, made one fold, creased it, turned it, and folded it again. Time was not an issue; all was done with respect and reverence, both for the flag and the individual who had honored it with their service. The flag was presented with such dignity to the gathered loved ones.  Those men must have spent hours preparing their uniforms and learning and practicing the graveside ceremony. Their level of care and perfection brought tears to my eyes.

The three servicemen hadn’t known the person who died, but they respected who the person once was and what they had sacrificed. It made me realize what a gift it is when everything is done to the Glory of God, and how much the small things really do count.


Feast of St. Laurence, Deacon and Martyr – August 10th

St. Laurence (or Lawrence) was a young and heroic martyr, born 31 December AD 225 in modern day Spain. He became a disciple of the future Pope Sixtus II, who was of Greek origin, and one of the most highly esteemed teachers of his time. Sixtus became Pope in 257 AD and ordained Laurence as a deacon, the first among seven who served in the patriarchal church.  Laurence received the title “Archdeacon of Rome,” a position that included overseeing the Church’s treasury and riches, including distribution of alms to the poor and needy. To Laurence, the real treasures of the Church were the indigent, the disabled, the blind and the suffering  to whom he presented alms.

Pope Sixtus so respected the young deacon that he was given the care of the altar, and served at the side of the Pope when Holy Communion was offered. During the persecution of Roman Emperor Valerian, Sixtus II and four of his deacons martyred. Laurence greatly desired to die with his spiritual father and reportedly asked, “Father, where are you going without your son? Where are you hastening, O priest, without your deacon?

Pope Sixtus II answered with this prophecy: “I am not forsaking you, my son; a severer trial is awaiting you for your faith in Christ.” Indeed, on 10 August AD 258, Laurence was tortured, scourged, and burned upon a fiery gridiron. In excruciating pain, he prayed these simple words, “Lord Jesus Christ, God from God, have mercy on Your servant.”


Transfiguration Sunday

This Sunday, we celebrate the Feast of the Transfiguration, which is the “namesake” feast for our Church. The interior stone lintel over the main church doors, has always been one of my most favorite carvings because of the language expressed in the bodies and on the faces of the three disciples. The three have been cast to the stony ground by the sheer magnitude of seeing Jesus in his transfigured state. What must it have been like?  Peter appears caught between his spontaneous offer to make three booths and hearing the booming authority of the Father’s voice. James’ visage portrays overwhelming terror, and John is pictured in a moment of reverence and love. Jesus strictly charged them to tell no one about this event until after his resurrection.  I found myself wondering if that was difficult for them.  Did their experience come back to mind during difficult times?  Did it sustain them through the crucifixion? I believe that Jesus intervenes in our lives with small transfiguration moments – tailor-made for each one of us.  We are humbled by a new knowledge of who God is, and who we are – small, afraid, full of awe in the face of such a majesty.

Commemoration of the Martyrdom of St. John the Baptist – August 1

Today is a holy day on which we pay honor to the martyrdom of St. John the Baptist.  Beheaded at the drunken whim of Herod Antipas, St. John was forerunner not only of Christ’s birth but also His innocent death at the hand of human wickedness.
Many followed John and looked to him for hope.  He was to prepare the way and was not himself the Way.  John gave his life and death to fulfill his call, and to lead others to Jesus, his Savior. John’s persecutor, Herod, demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Regardless of threat and imprisonment, confident of God’s love and grace, John courageously spoke truth, repentance, and salvation in the face of Herod’s disgraceful actions.
May we, like John, answer our call with all our hearts. May others see in our lives the joy of knowing and serving Jesus.
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Gratitude: The Opposite of Fear

Last week, I was talking to the Lord about what my fear does, and how it makes everything in my life smaller. What I discovered is that fear breeds selfishness, which in turn breeds loneliness and separation. After meditating on this concept, I asked Jesus about the opposite of fear and how to counter my lack of trust in Him. He told me that gratitude is the answer. Gratitude fosters generosity, which breeds joy and community. I decided to do an experiment and put this new “lesson” into practice. What a difference it made in my life!

Emily Dickinson: A Cloistered Life

I have always wondered if Emily Dickinson had a contemplative call. She kept to herself, avoided social situations, and wore white. One of her poems suggests her choice of a cloistered life.

A solemn thing — it was — I said —

A Woman — white — to be —

And wear — if God should count me fit —

Her blameless mystery —

A cloister is a covered walkway in a convent or monastery open to a quadrangle often filled with flowers.  As a New England Congregationalist in the nineteenth century, she would never have seen a cloister, but I suspect she made her own.  She was an avid gardener, tending the many flowers she mentions in her poems.

To her neighbors in Amherst, Emily was an eccentric and a recluse. Her life reminds me of 1 Samuel 16:7—The Lord does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart. She wrote nearly 1,800 poems—about life and death, God and nature—many funny, many profound, discovered in a drawer after her death.

St. James the Great – July 25

James the Great (or Greater), son of Zebedee, was born in approximately 3 AD. He was brother to John, also one of the original Twelve Apostles chosen by Jesus. His father Zebedee, a Galilean fisherman, was a man of means; Salome, James’ mother, was a pious woman who later followed Jesus and used the family’s wealth to help His ministry.

James was a man of “firsts”:  one of the first disciples to join Jesus, one of only three chosen to witness Christ’s transfiguration, and believed to be the first apostle martyred for his faith.  

He was known to be a man with a fiery temper. He and his brother earned the nickname Boanerges or “Sons of Thunder”.  The Bible, in Luke 9:51-56, records the following: As the time approached for Him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; but the people there did not welcome Him, because He was heading for Jerusalem. When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?” But Jesus turned and rebuked them. Then He and His disciples went to another village. How refreshingly human!

Universally, St. James the Great is recognized as the Patron Saint of Pilgrims. Tradition maintains that St. James preached the gospel in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) as well as the Holy Land. Upon his return to Judea circa 44 AD, he was decapitated by Herod Agrippa, who used his own sword to commit the execution. Legend maintains that disciples of James carried his body by sea back to Iberia, and then took it inland for burial at Santiago de Compostela.  A pilgrimage route was established and remains today. Camino de Santiago, or The Way of St. James, is among the most famous of all Christian pilgrimages.

James the Great is often depicted clothed as a pilgrim, with staff in hand, pilgrim hat, and a scallop shell on his shoulder. Scallop shells became a symbol of pilgrimage because of their abundance on the coast of Galicia, near St. James’ tomb. In the Middle Ages, a pilgrimage was often a penance assigned by a priest, and the pilgrim was required to present proof that their journey was complete. A local souvenir, such as a scallop shell, served not only as proof, but could be used as a bowl for food or water along the way.

St. James the Great (or Elder) is honored by tradition and legend and rightfully so.  But perhaps his greatest accomplishment is found in Matthew 4, verses 21 and 22: Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed Him.

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St. John Cassian – Abbot, July 23

The Christian theologian John the Ascetic, or John Cassian the Roman, was born in Scythia Minor (Dobruja in modern-day Romania) ca. 360 AD and passed from this world in 435 AD.  He was honored as a saint in both the Western and Eastern Churches, primarily for his mystical writings. Born to wealthy parents, John was provided with a good and well-rounded education. He was bilingual in Latin and Greek, and his writings indicate the influence of two great men of Rome, Cicero and Persius, orators, poets, and writers of philosophy.

John is quoted as follows:  The bond between friends cannot be broken by chance; no interval of time or space can destroy it. Not even death itself can part true friends. Perhaps these are strange words from an ascetic and a man of the desert.  But there is a record of a friendship between John and an older man named Germanus, with whom he traveled to Palestine as a young adult.  Together for the next twenty-five years, they pursued a deeper faith and understanding of monasticism. They entered a hermitage near Bethlehem, residing there for three years. Next, their spiritual journey sent them to the desert of Scete in Egypt and a number of other monastic foundations in the area.

Beleaguered by heresies and controversies in the church, the two men eventually sought refuge in Constantinople and petitioned John Chrysostom for protection.  There Cassion was ordained a deacon, priest, and finally, invited to found an Egyptian-style monastery in southern France, near Marseilles.  The Abbey of St. Victor was one of the first complexes in the West that included monasteries for men and women.  It served as a model for further monastic development.

Saint John Cassion is responsible for two important spiritual works, Conferences of the Desert Fathers and Institutes of the Coenobia (or colony of monastic cells.)

In Conferences, Cassion defines and summarizes the wisdom and spiritual principles of the ascetic life, that is, “the training of the inner man and perfection of the heart.” Institutes deals with the practical “living out”, the external organization of monastic communities. Cassion’s desire was to bring order to a movement he found chaotic. Manual labor stood alongside the pursuit of wisdom and spiritual enlightenment.

Saint John Cassion was a man of common sense. His life of rigorous asceticism was bordered by practicality: a realization of his own frailty, and a genuine love and generosity toward all.

St. John Cassian