Wednesday, September 16, 2009

OUR LADY OF SORROWS (a reflection written yesterday for our jurisdictional email list in celebration of the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows)

Maybe it's because my father died earlier in the year, I was very ill in the summer, and am going through economic uncerainty at work -- maybe it's because of the recent deaths of a friend and Patrick Swayze -- or maybe it's because I'm getting sappy in my old age, but although I've celebrated this feast in past years, I'm finding that it is resonating with me today in a way it never has before.

After sending out Nameday greetings to our Carmelite Friar, Br. Robert Julian of Our Mother of Sorrows, I was chuckling about the absurdity of wishing someone a "happy" feast of Our Lady of "Sorrows" -- sort of like saying "have a good time" to someone on their way to a funeral -- and I got to thinking about the resonance the devotion to Our Lady of Sorrows has with so many people. One of the wonderful things about our faith is that we can look to Christ and those around him and see that they went through the same things we did. The Incarnation sanctifies our whole life -- Christ is fully God and fully human, and by living in Christ, our whole life is "divinized" and made holy through our relationship with Christ. As Mary bore Christ, so we are called to bear Christ. As Mary suffered through seeing her Son put to death, and then saw that suffering redeemed in the salvation of the world -- so we can join our sufferings to hers, and to Christ's sufferings on the Cross, and know that there is a greater purpose, and that through the glory of the resurrection we will be saved and know happiness and an end to our suffering, even as we trust that God can work through our sorrow to make us more compassionate, more Christlike, more whole.

I also thought about how, just as this devotion has sustained Catholic Christians through the centuries, so many Evangelical Christians have had a similar devotion to Christ as the one who understands and walks with us through our sorrows -- often expressed in hymns, such as "What a Friend We Have in Jesus":

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

Have we trials and temptations? Is there trouble anywhere?
We should never be discouraged; take it to the Lord in prayer.
Can we find a friend so faithful who will all our sorrows share?
Jesus knows our every weakness; take it to the Lord in prayer.

Are we weak and heavy laden, cumbered with a load of care?
Precious Savior, still our refuge, take it to the Lord in prayer.
Do your friends despise, forsake you? Take it to the Lord in prayer!
In His arms He’ll take and shield you; you will find a solace there.

Blessed Savior, Thou hast promised Thou wilt all our burdens bear
May we ever, Lord, be bringing all to Thee in earnest prayer.
Soon in glory bright unclouded there will be no need for prayer
Rapture, praise and endless worship will be our sweet portion there. Amen.

Nothing original, nothing millions of Christians haven't felt through the ages. But I'm feeling it in my bones today in a way I haven't as much in the past.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Favorite Hymns

Lyngine posted a question to our church email list, asking people to list their favorite five hymns. Here is my response:

1. Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (sung ONLY to Westminster Abbey)
2. The Church's One Foundation
3. Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
4. At the Lamb's High Feast We Sing
5. Christ the Fair Glory, of the Holy Angels

You didn't ask, but here goes:
6. Alleluia, Sing to Jesus (sung to Hyfrdol)
7. Wake, Awake for Night Is Flying
8. The Glory of These Forty Days
9. Ah, Holy Jesus
10. O Come, All Ye Faithful

When I was a child (age 4 or thereabouts), my favorite hymn was At Calvary.

And you didn't ask, but my favorite service music in English, for the Kyrie, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei is the Missa de Sancta Maria Magdalena by Healey Willan, for the Gloria is the Old Scottish Chant (which we sang at Carol Bolstad's ordination), and for the Credo, the Calvin Hampton setting in the 1982 Hymnal. I also love the Sanctus and Agnus Dei setting by Schubert in the 1982 Hymnal.

I love all of the Gregorian chant settings of the Mass (and everything else), but my favorite polyphonic setting of the Latin is a tie between Byrd's Mass for 3 Voices and Palestrina's Missa de Papae Marcelli for those that can be sung at a Mass and Bach's Mass in B Minor for those than can't. (Although I do love Vivaldi's Gloria as well.) I'm also quite fond of Bach's Magnificat.

My favorite setting for Evensong is probably Robert Parson's First Service.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

New Items on ICCC Website

There are two new items on the Independent Catholic Christian Church website, First, under "Seasonal Reflections" (see the lefthand menu), I have posted the remarks I was privileged to offer at the celebratory Mass on Saturday, May 30, in honor of the fifth anniversary of St. Mary of Grace parish in Philadelphia. Fr. Joseph Menna, AIHM, the pastor of St. Mary of Grace and Prior General of the Augustinians of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, who care for the parish, has also cross-posted the remarks at his blog, A Restless Heart, where one can also find helpful meditations on Augustinian spirituality.

The second new item is the Vocations page. We have revised and expanded it. Before, the page focused only on ordained ministry -- it has now been expanded to cover the vocations of lay Christians, ordained clergy, and religious -- both solitaries and those in communities. ALL baptized Christians have a vocation, not just those called to the priesthood.

Check them out!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Embertide Reflections

In the traditional western liturgical calendar, there are four sets of three days of prayer, fasting, and abstinence known as “Ember Days”. These were observed by the church at Rome from at least the third century. The sacrament of Reconciliation was especially recommended at these times. Ordinations have traditionally been conferred on Ember Saturdays – the Mass for Ember Saturday in the traditional Western rite contains four extra lessons (five in December), with ordinations for the different orders happening after each reading. Yesterday was Ember Wednesday and tomorrow and the day after are Ember Friday and Ember Saturday.

At some point, in the Episcopal Church (I am not sure if this practice originated in the Church of England or not – if any readers know and would enlighten me, I’d appreciate it), the canons began to require postulants and candidates for ordination to write a letter each Embertide to their bishop, telling them of their progress in their formation. I just discovered a rather funny form on the website of Virginia Theological Seminary to automatically generate fake Embertide letters:

In our jurisdiction, we have adopted the practice and extended it to all of the clergy (including the bishop). Rather than sending it only to the bishop, each seminarian and clergymember sends it to our jurisdictional yahoogroup. There are four parts to the Embertide reflection – reading that the person has done, a reflection on one’s ministry, a reflection on one’s prayer and spiritual life, and a reflection on one’s personal human condition and how it has affected one’s ministry. The last two, while required topics for reflection, do not have to be shared with the yahoogroup as do the first two, since they deal with the “internal forum” – however, it is strongly recommended that people share these with a spiritual director or friend if not sharing with the group. Although only clergy and seminarians are required to do these reflections, laity are invited and encouraged to do so if they find it helpful, and several do regularly share their reflections (sometimes more enthusiastically than the clergy!). The 1979 Book of Common Prayer has as one of the sets of propers recommended for Ember days a set “for all Christians in their vocation”, and it is most appropriate that laity as well as clergy reflect on their ministry and spiritual lives.

There are three aspects of this practice that I find especially helpful. First, it is good to have a regular (roughly quarterly) time set aside to reflect on my ministry and my spiritual life. It is so important to step back and evaluate how one is doing in these areas, and this practice builds the opportunity and obligation to do so into my schedule. Second, tying it to a liturgical observance places the process in a context of prayer and meditation. This is not a status report – “I said 87 masses, heard 13 confessions, missed Morning Prayer 3 times, etc.” – it is meant to be a spiritual practice – actually prayerfully considering one’s ministry and spiritual life while consciously in the presence of God. Finally, the practice of sharing it with others in one’s jurisdiction or with a spiritual director builds in accountability and the opportunity for mutual support.

I invite others to consider this spiritual practice of Embertide reflections as a way of deepening their spiritual lives.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ordination as Exorcist

Our jurisdiction maintains, as do many other Independent Catholic jurisdictions, the traditional practice of minor orders. After being made a Cleric, a seminarian receives four minor orders: Doorkeeper, Reader, Exorcist, and Acolyte. Then follows the major order of Subdeacon, followed by the sacramental orders of Deacon and Priest. (Bishop being the third sacramental order.) In the Roman Catholic denomination, only the traditionalist orders maintain these minor orders (there are ministries of Reader and Acolyte in the "ordinary form" to which candidates for ordination are admitted, but they are no longer considered ordinations), but many quite liberal indie jurisdictions maintain them. However, many liberal jurisdictions substitute the term Healer for Exorcist. It is true that the theme of healing is present in the traditional ordination rite for Exorcist. The final prayer in the rite is as follows (the translation of the traditional Latin rite is taken from the Old Catholic Missal and Ritual of Abp. Arnold Mathew):

Holy Lord, Father Almighty, everlasting God, be pleased to bless these servants of Thine for the office of Exorcist, that by laying-on of hands, and word of mouth, they may have power and authority to hold unclean spirits in check; that strengthened by the gift of healing and by power from on high, they may be approved healers for Thy Church. Through our Lord Jesus Christ Thy Son, Who lives and reigns with Thee in the unity, etc. Amen.

However, emphasizing the healer aspect while negating the exorcist role obscures a vital truth about the Christian faith: the need to confront the reality of evil. God willing, I will ordain our seminarian Sandra Hutchinson as an Exorcist this coming Saturday. Sandra has this to say about her upcoming ordination, which sums up what this order is about admirably:

"Of all the minor orders, this is the one that intimidates me the most. Evil is real, and this is a direct challenge to it. But God is real too, I know that. And I'm looking forward to it as well."

Please pray for Sandra as she takes this next step in her journey.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Independent Catholic Vocations: Worker Priests

Independent Catholic Christians share a common baptismal vocation with other Christians, and IC/OC clergy share a common diaconal or priestly vocation with other Christian clergy, particularly within the Anglican, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox traditions. However, within those common vocations, there are also vocational differences based on the unique characteristics of the Independent Sacramental Movement and of each jurisdiction within it.

One of the most obvious differences, which has a profound effect on how clergy live out their vocation, is the issue of bivocationalism. Most Roman Catholic and Orthodox clergy are paid full-time to be clergy, and although there are a number of non-stipendiary clergy in the Episcopal church, most parishes still operate on the model of being served by full-time paid clergy, and many dioceses which offer subsidies to parishes that cannot afford full-time clergy do so with the hope that the parish will grow financially to the point where it can support its own full-time clergyperson. Parishes that cannot afford a full-time priest are often downgraded to mission status, and are usually seen as “struggling” and, at the very least, not the norm.

In sharp contrast, the overwhelming majority of IC/OC communities are very small and have no realistic hope of ever being able to pay a full-time clergyperson (or own a building, but that is another discussion). Most people who are ordained in our movement will never be able to support themselves through ministry, and the overwhelming majority of the less than 1% who do will either do so through a chaplaincy job or through a wedding ministry and NOT through parish ministry. Most IC/OC priests (and bishops) will be “worker priests”. Almost all IC/OC parish communities will rely on the ministry of worker priests. (Yes, I know about Spiritus Sancti in Rochester, NY, and I’m sure there are a tiny handful of others for which this is not true, but it is true and always will be for the overwhelmingly vast number of IC/OC priests and communities – trust me on this!)

I point this out not to claim that either the “mainstream” (for lack of a better word) or the “indie” model is better or more right or anything of the sort – there are wonderful clergy and communities, average clergy and communities, and really dreadful ones in both models. Each model has advantages and disadvantages. The real point is to accept one’s lot and do the best one can to serve God given the particular circumstances in which one finds oneself.

But for those of us in the independent movement, it can be difficult to accept this lot. Almost all of us were raised in “mainstream” churches, and a large number of clergy have been in an ordination process, or a religious order, or a seminary in a “mainstream” church. (Of the 17 seminarians and clergy who have at one time or another been associated with the Mission Episcopate of St. Michael & St. Timothy, the “diocese” I head, 13 were at one time in the ordination process in the Roman Catholic, Episcopal, and/or ELCA denominations. Of the remaining 4, 3 were women raised in the Roman Catholic church who came to the IC/OC movement because the RC’s don’t ordain women, which leaves only one person who did not seriously consider ordination in a “mainstream” context first. John Plummer thinks these numbers are higher than the majority of jurisdictions, but regardless, most who seek ordination were originally members of mainstream churches of one kind or another.)

I raise this issue because most of us, having received our basic Christian formation and often, even our beginning formation as clergy from churches which assume full-time paid ministry as the norm, may find it difficult to let go of those expectations and instead focus on the expectations we should have. If we internalize, consciously or not, the idea that a “successful” priest has a large enough congregation to pay one’s salary and that a “real” church has a building of its own, we may be so overcome with shame that we are unable to minister to those God does send us. A large congregation with full-time staff and a building can engage in ministries we can’t – and we can offer an intense community life and can respond to individual needs much more readily than the large churches can. The important thing is for us to offer the sacraments and the liturgy to those who come to us, to the best of our ability, and to do the best we can to make disciples of Christ. In our community, we have a Sunday liturgy in a space rented from a Unitarian Universalist congregation, a Wednesday night service in the chapel I’ve made out of a spare bedroom (and a monthly Friday service in another chapel a parishioner has made out of a bedroom in his home), and a Tuesday night service that happens by phone conference.

What are the opportunities we as worker priests have? First, although the demands of our secular job and home life are such that we don’t have the time to focus on church that some have, we are therefore forced to focus on the essentials. I sometimes find that I accomplish more when I have a short time to do something than when I have a long time – and it is no different here. Second, this situation demands collaboration in a way that can be lacking in larger churches. I cannot imagine how an indie church could function fully without at least two priests, and small communities demand more of the laity as well, who can be much more intimately involved than they may have opportunities to be elsewhere. (Certainly, large congregations often have lay involvement, but it is often a small core – and there is less opportunity to hide in a small church. Just ask the couple who joined us in procession and would have processed out to the car – had they not left their purses inside – and who foolishly came back a second week to find themselves being the entire congregation. They are now both heavily involved in the life of the parish, the jurisdiction, and in one case, the AIHM order.) A third opportunity is to share more fully the life that those we serve lead – we can understand the challenges and burdens they face, because we share them.

But we can only fully embrace these opportunities if we embrace our position as worker priests, and see it as a vocation from God, rather than seeing it as an obstacle to overcome.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Fritz Cravens, RIP

Last night, my father passed away at about a quarter to midnight. This coming Friday, he would have turned 92. He died on his 63rd wedding anniversary.

Richard Farris "Fritz" Cravens was one of 14 children, 9 of the 11 boys being ministers (and one of the other two a lay preacher). He picked up "Fritz" when fighting with a brother, and an older brother nicknamed them Fritz and Hans (which became Hank) after the Katzenjammer Kids, an early comic strip http://en.wikipedia .org/wiki/ Katzenjammer_ Kids.

My father was converted and baptized in a Free Will Baptist Church, and was at least briefly a licensed minister with them, before being ordained first a Cumberland Presbyterian and then a Southern Baptist minister. For a few years in my childhood, he was a minister in the Assemblies of God before returning to the Southern Baptists. He loved to sing, and was in a gospel quartet in his younger days. His degree from seminary is actually in church music rather than theology. When I was a child, his two standard solos were "How Great Thou Art" and "Great is Thy Faithfulness" , both of which we will sing at the funeral.

May he rest in peace.