Feast of St. Polycarp

The life of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, bridged the time in the early church between the leadership of the apostles and the next generation. It is believed that Polycarp learned about the faith from John and was appointed as Bishop by the apostles. There were many disagreements at that time about interpretations of Jesus’ teaching, and Polycarp was often called to settle disputes as he had been so close to the apostle John. In addition, some believe that Polycarp may have been the person who compiled and edited the New Testament.

His one existing letter, which was sent to the church in Philippi, shows him to be a humble man.  Apparently, he had a sense of humor as well. At the time of his arrest, he engaged the Roman soldiers in witty conversation until they lost patience and told him that he would be burned at the stake — to which Polycarp replied that early fires would burn for a time, but fires of judgment (perhaps on those who were ungodly) would burn perpetually!

Tradition says that as he burned at the stake, the atmosphere had a quality of “baking bread or as gold and silver refined in a furnace.”

 

 

 

 

Praying the Psalms through Lent

During Lent, we’ll be sharing excerpts from According to Your Mercy, a journey through Lent and Easter with the psalms. On Ash Wednesday, Fr. Martin Shannon, CJ, author of According to Your Mercy shared about his own journey with the psalms in a short video. Many have called the psalms a ‘school of prayer’ and indeed St. Augustine in his Confessions wrote that the psalms could be a stepping stone to a deeper conversation with God. These ancient words from Scripture mirror our own thoughts and emotions—celebration and praise, suffering and lament, gratitude and asking for help—as relevant today as when they were first sung in the Temple.

Fr. Martin Shannon, CJ brings deep teaching as well as the personal encounter of someone who has chanted and studied the Psalms for years. Each reflection is on one psalm, offering a meditation on its meaning and how it connects to our lives, followed by a word from one of the ancient church fathers and a prayer.

For the Wednesday of Lent I
For his steadfast love endures for ever. Psalm 136:1

From the Desert Fathers
This psalm contains the praise of God, and all its verses finish in the same way. Although many things are related here in praise of God, his mercy is the most commended.
St. Augustine

Click to hear from Fr. Martin about his journey with the psalms http://bit.ly/2EJzMex

 

 

Bell Ringing in 18th Century Cornwall

If you have been following the PBS series “Poldark” you have learned a lot about Cornwall, but may not know that bell ringing towers abound in Cornwall, England, surrounded by a rich culture and history. The beauty, flow and precision teamwork of bell ringing was an important part of the culture of the time, and indeed the church bells signified the time to come to a service, a time to pray and were rung on special occasions of a wedding or funeral service. In in the 1800s, as today, bell ringing was also an enjoyable leisure activity and ringers would gather and practice just for the fun of it. Here is one famous song that was written about a ringing contest between 5 towers, all of which are in Cornwall, and which took place during the time of the Poldark story. Egloshayle is a village in Northern Cornwall. Eglos being the Cornish word for church, and hayle being the Cornish word for estuary. The ringers named in the song are all buried in the churchyard there, and their names can still be seen on the headstones. It is called “The Egloshayle Ringers”:

Come all you jovial ringers, and listen to my tale
I’ll tell you of, five ringers bold, that lived in Egloshayle.
For ring or ray, they bore away, wherever they did go,
The music of the merry bells, was their delight to show.

There was Craddock, the cordwainer, he rang the treble bell;
John Ellery was, the second man, and few could him excel:
The third was Pollard, the carpenter, and the fourth was Thomas Cleave;
And Goodfellow, the tenor man, that rang him round so brave.

Now Craddock was, the treble man, he stepped ‘long with his toe;
And casting of, his eyes around, commanded them where to go:
They pulled away, with courage bold, which did their hearts revive;
Sweet music then was quickly heard, with: “one, two, three, four, five.”

They went out to Lanlivery, they brought away the prize;
They came back, to St. Tudy, and done the same likewise;
Lanlivery men, St. Mabyn men, St. Tudy and St. Kew;
But those five lads of Egloshayle, did all the rest outdo.

This little corps, they played so sure, no changes did they fear;
No man did ever, miss his turn, ‘twas joy to see and hear:
And people all, for miles around, did tell o’er hill and dale;
The fame of those, five ringers bold, that lived in Egloshayle.

Let your list take a backseat in Lent

A friend, who is used to having “too much to do,” recently had a job change with fewer responsibilities, and is finding the adjustment difficult.  Pressure has been dictating her day, and without it, she feels like she’s floundering.  I suspect most of us have, or will, experience this at some point.

This reminds me of Lent, which is a time of intentional cutting back. It can be with food, or, in this case, activity—in order to spend more time in prayer or spiritual reading.  It’s harder for me to pray and find out what God wants me to do on a daily basis

if I always feel like I am behind on my “to do list” from the day before.  Lent is a time to let the “to do list” take a back seat, and realize that God sees us as much more than our accomplishments.  I hope I can use this Lent to learn the lesson, so that the next time I find myself either striving on pressure, or lamenting that I don’t have any, I can pray to see God’s point of view, and realize “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

Seeing from God’s Point of View

Ash Wednesday

This past Sunday, February 11, in the atrium of the Church of the Transfiguration, we burned the palms from last Palm Sunday to become the ashes that we receive today. Lent is often a combination of looking backward in repentance, and forward to Easter joy of forgiveness and new life. The Gregorian chant hymn for Lauds captures some of this dichotomy. The text centers on penitential themes of softening hearts and the divide between light and darkness.  The melody for this hymn has a forward-moving, energized spirit. One of the final verses of the hymn already points us towards Easter, rejoicing and the flowering of Spring.

Today, if you will hear the Lord’s voice, do not harden your hearts.

Now, O Christ, Sun of Justice, let the shadows of the mind divide, that the light of virtues may return when you restore daylight to the world.

Granting an acceptable time, also give a penitent heart that kindness may convert those who longsuffering has borne;

And give some kind of penance to carry out, through which our sins, however grave, may be removed by your greater offering.

The day is coming, your day, through which all things flower again; may we rejoice in it, led back by it to your grace.

You, let the entirety of all things worship, O merciful Trinity, and made new by forgiveness, let us sing the new song. Amen

 

    

 

     

Feast of St. Scholastica

Little is known about St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict of Nursia. She founded a house of sisters near Benedict’s monastery, Monte Cassino, and as far as we know, followed a similar monastic rule. The one anecdote that we have of her her life, from the writings of Gregory the Great, tells us that during a visit from her brother, St. Benedict, she pleaded for him to stay longer. He refused, and then Scholastica prayed for rain to block his departure.  An extreme rainstorm followed, and Benedict was forced to remain until the following day. Just two days later Scholastica died, and at that time Benedict saw a white dove ascending to heaven, a sign of her spirit rising to God. In the sculpted image here of St. Scholastica in the cloister of the Community of Jesus, Scholastica is pictured with a dove. Interestingly, this story is retold in the Gregorian antiphons for office of Lauds on the feast of St. Scholastica. What follows it the English translations of the text:

St. Scholastica Carving - Church of the Transfiguration - Community of Jesus

Stone carving of St. Scholastica

Go out now, brother, go out if you can, and having dismissed me, go back to your monastery.

May Almighty God spare you, sister; what is this that you have done?

Behold, I begged you and you would not hear me; I begged my Lord and he listened to me.

Let us talk now until morning about heavenly things, in holy conversation about the spiritual life.

 

 

 

While the holy Benedict, three days later, was standing in his cell, having raised his eyes, he saw the soul of his sister which had left her body, enter the secret places of heaven in form of a dove.

Both the monastery at Montecassino, Italy, and the monastery of Saint-Benoît-sur-Loire, France, claim to house the remains of both saints. Tradition says that at the end of the 7th century, the relics were stolen from Montecassino and brought to France.

The lives of both of these saints continue today to inspire religious life in both of these monastic houses, and indeed inspire monastics and laypeople worldwide.

 

 

Ringing into Eternity

A few of us were out shoveling snow off our driveway earlier this year when the lowest bell began ringing in the bell tower. After a dozen or so strokes it seemed clear that one of our members had passed away. I lost count of the number of tolls somewhere in the 60’s, and stopped shoveling. Roughly 85-95 strokes. To hear the news from the tower out in the cold over the snow, I was struck how special the tower has become to our community. The bell tower was sharing the news with everyone, ringing our dear friend into eternity.

At the funeral reception celebrating a life fully lived, after the bells were finished, each of us were given a card with lyrics to a favorite song:
 t
You’ve got to accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In Between
You’ve got to spread joy up to the maximum
Bring gloom down to the minimum
Have faith or pandemonium
Liable to walk upon the scene
To illustrate his last remark
Jonah in the whale, Noah in the ark
What did they do
Just when everything looked so dark
Man, they said we better, accentuate the positive
Eliminate the negative
Latch on to the affirmative
Don’t mess with Mister In-Between
No, do not mess with Mister In-Between
Do you hear me?
t
Church of the Transfiguration Bell Tower in the Snow

Bell Tower in Winter at the Church of the Transfiguration, Community of Jesus

Feast of the Presentation of Jesus – Candlemas

The Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple is also known as Candlemas. The tradition of Candlemas blessing on the Feast of the Presentation dates to the 11th century and is inspired by words of the Nunc Dimittis (Canticle of Simeon), speaking of Christ as the “light to lighten the Gentiles”. 

In our community, as in many others, this celebration includes the blessing of the liturgical candles for the coming year. As our candles are handmade by our members, this service blesses the work that goes on throughout the year to keep the church supplied with candlelight.

This feast also celebrates ‘spiritual sight’.  Both Simeon and Anna, who had dedicated their lives to prayer were able to recognize Christ as the Messiah when Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple. Scripture verses from Malachi that point to the coming of John the Baptist are part of the lectionary readings for this feast. “Behold, I send my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple…Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord.” Several of the Gregorian chant psalm antiphons for this Feast also link the offering of Christ in the Temple with our own salvation.

“Offer, blessed one, the child, your only one and the Father’s; offer him through whom we are offered, the price at which we were redeemed.”

“Go on, O regal virgin, bring forward the son with a sacrifice; he recalls all people to joy, who comes, the salvation of all.”

Icon: Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, Sr. Faith Riccio, Community of Jesus

Feast of St. Marcella

 Marcella is credited as one of the founders of monasticism. Widowed at a young age after just nine months of marriage, she formed a small community of noble women dedicated to a life of austerity and asceticism. Her home, which had been a center of Roman society, was now a place for pilgrims, for the poor, and a gathering place for the women in her community.  A close friend of St. Jerome, she felt free to spar with him on theological matters and to dispute his translations of the Scriptures. She died soon after being tortured by the Goths who were seeking the hiding place of her wealth, which had long ago been given away to the poor.  

In one of St. Jerome’s letters, a memoir of Marcella, he describes her love of scripture and says “She was forever singing these verses, Your words have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against you,(Psalm 119:11) as well as the words, his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law does he meditate day and night. (Psalm 1:2)”

The Feast of Saints Timothy & Titus

Both Timothy and Titus heard Paul preach when they were young men and became trusted friends and partners in Paul’s ministry in the following years. They encouraged the faithful, cared for Paul when he was imprisoned and in Timothy’s case, followed Paul to a martyrs death. May we be a support to those in our communities with a particular call to spiritual direction.

“He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine.” — Titus 1:9 NIV