Archive for April, 2011|Monthly archive page

The Gospel in Glass—Easter 2011

In Christianity on April 24, 2011 at 7:20 pm

First and most of all, blessed Easter, followers of Christianity Richly.  I’m grateful if you have found something here previously, which has brought you back on this Easter Sunday. This Easter post jumps very far-forward in the Gospel in Glass series, to the top of the window behind the altar at St. Mary’s. But this ascent seems entirely fitting on Easter, when our Savior is risen!

At the top of the altar window, the risen, ascended Christ is pictured holding a white flag or banner, with a red cross superimposed on the white field. “Normal,” one might think. “Kings and armies carried banners. That’s typical of the historical period, in centuries before and since.”

Ah, but to imagine that is to miss the biblical richness of the Gospel in Glass! For Song of Songs 2:4 says:

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

Most Bible translations use the word “banner,” although the NAB translates the Hebrew word as “emblem.” Even if the word were emblem, however, that would not change the meaning. What is Jesus Christ’s banner or emblem over us? Not an abstraction. Not hostility propitiated (as the NAB note on Romans 3:23-25 points out). Christ’s banner over us is Love!

In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins (1 John 4:10).

A banqueting house? Yes! Could there be a more perfect picture of His Church, within which Christ offers Himself in the Eucharist?

Take and eat; this is my body (Matthew 26:26).

May God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit be praised on this glorious Easter Day for His love. May the richest possible blessings be granted to all the Catechumens and Candidates who entered the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church at Easter Vigil. And may we all look to our Savior, Whose banner over us is love!

Holy Saturday

In Christianity on April 23, 2011 at 3:59 pm

“There was a garden” (John 19:41).

On this holy day of quiet waiting, we give thanks “there was a garden”—a garden in which our Lord’s body could rest in anticipation of the Resurrection; a garden from which His casting-off of death promises the same to us!

I first heard the garden theme preached more than two decades ago, by a fundamentalist who had a love for literature, drama, and the arts. Those interests infused his message with a richness, confirming Hemingway’s observation that 90% of the power of good writing (and preaching) lies below the surface—giving it power and weight—like the invisible bulk of an iceberg below the sea. Yet this man lacked an understanding of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church; its richness, indeed its fullness (Ephesians 1:18-23).

What a joy then, this Holy Saturday morning, to read our Holy Father’s book, Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week from the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection and encounter the passage quoted below. It is a fitting and rich meditation for today.

Saint John . . . gives a theological interpretation to the place when he says: “across the Kidron valley, where there was a garden” (18:1). This same highly evocative word comes back at the end of the Passion narrative: “In the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb where no one had ever been laid” (19:41). John’s use of the word “garden” is an unmistakable reference to the story of Paradise and the Fall. That story, he tells us, is being resumed here. It is in the “garden” that Jesus is betrayed, but the garden is also the place of the Resurrection. It was in the garden that Jesus fully accepted the Father’s will, made it his own, and thus changed the course of history.¹  [Italicized emphasis mine]

A Good Friday Meditation

In Christianity, Lent on April 23, 2011 at 2:47 am

“As the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for her young, my home is by Your altars, my king and my God. Happy are those who dwell in Your house.”¹

Amidst the grief of Good Friday and the Passion of our Savior, hope emerges from the unveiled altar at St. Mary’s.

Each year the altar is stripped. When the Maundy Thursday liturgy ends, the Pastor, Deacons, and altar servers remove the crosses and candles. The statuary have been veiled. The Eucharist is removed late Thursday after a period of Adoration (“Could you not watch with me one hour?” Matthew 26:40), and the Church becomes cold and bare.

Yet by God’s grace, what appears? Carved in the stone of the bare altar—visible only on this darkest of days—twelve birds surround a Chalice and Host. During my first Lent at St. Mary’s some years ago, I marveled, “What does this mean?”

Psalm 84 is the answer. Fly to the Lord! Find the only lasting home for yourself (and if called to marriage as your vocation, a nest for your young). But even more truth, goodness, and beauty is presented in the altar at St. Mary’s. The birds divide six by six on either side, looking to the Chalice and Host—a clear reference to the twelve Apostles and the authority of the Church through valid orders via Apostolic succession.

Who does the Chalice and Host represent? Our living Savior! The boundary of the bas-relief in which the birds are carved is even bent heavenward by the Chalice and Host. Should we be surprised? No!

At the name of Jesus every knee should bend, of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.²

Yet there is more. Above each bird is carved a sculpted point, aimed downward specifically and particularly, at each bird. Is this not a reminder of God’s knowledge of and care for each one of us?

Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.³

Yet there is more. Recessed in the altar is the royal seal, the Alpha and the Omega of the eternal I AM (Revelation 1:8). This is interwoven with the chi rho—the Christogram represented by the first two letters of the Greek spelling of the name of Christ. Yet the rendering in stone of this seal makes it seem to emerge faintly, as if through a veil—where Heaven touches earth in the beauty and truth of the Sacred Liturgy.

There is more. But shall we go farther? One almost dares not! But so we do not exalt ourselves—God forbid—to anything akin to St. Paul’s vision (2 Corinthians 12:4), we must finish with our feet on earth, for the sake of the smallest child and for myself (Matthew 19:14). The immense solidity of this massive stone altar calls to mind C.S. Lewis’ allegorical picture of the sacrifice of Our Savior in The Lion The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

At last the rabble had had enough of this.  They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table . . . [saying] “Fool, did you think that by all this you would save the human traitor?”

Yes!  “Yes, yes, yes,” is the resounding answer. Yes, on this Stone Table our Redemption appears.

Aslan ended soul’s-winter in Narnia. But Aslan was simply Lewis’ picture of our glorious Savior. The Stone Table is stripped and bare today, but the victory is already won! We know how The Story ends—not just in Narnia, but in reality and truth.

For I know my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God!  (Job 19:25-26, John 11:25-26).

Christianity . . . so very richly!

¹ Psalm 84:4 (84:3, if using a protestant translation)

² Philippians 2:10-11

³ Luke 12:6-7

A Difficult Lent

In Christianity on April 19, 2011 at 10:29 pm

How has your Lent been this year? Have your prayer, fasting, and almsgiving been consistent? Have you made progress in self-mastery and sensed the movements of the Holy Spirit in your life? Have you felt close to the Lord?

If you answered “yes,” your Lent has been better than mine. Why? Interior inattention? I pray that has not been true of me. External distraction? Perhaps. An increasing awareness of my sin without equivalent progress overcoming it? Certainly that is true. This has been a difficult Lent—following hard on the heels of a disappointing Advent (not in the sense of Christ’s coming, but rather, disappointing because of my failure to make abundant room for Him in the “inn” of my schedule).

What, then, are you and I to do, if you’ve had a difficult season of reflection and repentance leading up to Easter? This is Holy Week. Easter is upon us. In our most discouraged moments, we may even be tempted, with the people chronicled in Jeremiah 8:20, to despair, “The harvest is past, the summer has ended, and we are not saved,”¹ not from our sin; not from ourselves.

Benedict XVI’s recently published, Jesus of Nazareth—Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, has been a huge help in this respect. He points out that “if man is to enter God’s presence, to have fellowship with God, he must be ‘clean.’ Yet the more he moves into the light, the more he sense how defiled he is.”² He further stresses that we are never to give up; never stop believing in forgiveness, as Judas did; never lose certainty that the Light of Christ will overcome darkness.³ Unlike Judas, or the people of Jerusalem described by Jeremiah, when we fall we must get up and return to the Lord.

In John 8:12, forgiving and freeing the woman caught in adultery, and John 9:5, healing the man born blind, light overcomes the darkness! Never doubt Jesus Christ can, and will, and is doing the same thing for you. “Light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth,” Ephesians 5:9 reassures us. We are even told we are “the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14).

How can this be? This is because, through the overwhelming goodness and power of God in Jesus Christ, we who were once darkness, now are light in the Lord” (Ephesians 5:8). In the words of Benedict, “Faith takes flesh” in us. The Church becomes the Body of Christ. And in this we have the assurance, “No one hates his own flesh but rather nourishes and cherishes it, even as Christ does the Church, because we are members of His body” (Ephesians 5:29-30).

Take heart, brother and sister in the Lord. If this has been a difficult Lent, persevere. The light of Christ shines in the darkness—the darkness of this world; the darkness of our failures—yet the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5), and it shall not! That is Christianity Richly.

¹ Most translations say “saved,” but the NAB uses the word “safe”

² Page 57

³ Pages 69, 92

Gospel in Glass: Mary

In Christianity on April 15, 2011 at 11:04 pm

In St. Mary’s altar window, second only to our Lord in importance, is the Lord’s mother. Divisions in Christendom starting in the 16th century have robbed non-Catholic communities of the blessings Christ intended, when He said, “Behold your mother” (John 19:27). So let’s look at the richness the Blessed Virgin Mary adds to The Gospel in Glass, without even going into areas about which there are misunderstandings.

First, based on the biblical record, we know—so who can object?—that our Lord’s Mother was faithful to the end. Would we not want such a Mother to stand by us, even at great personal cost? Simeon’s prophetic blessing (Luke 2:34-35) is powerfully portrayed in the window: a sword not only pierced Mary’s Son, but pierced her soul, as well (2:35), as she watched the Child she had cradled, nursed, and guided die in agony.

Second, also from the biblical record, can we not deduce Mary may have lived most of her life with this expectation for her Child’s death? Mary and Joseph were warned in a dream after Christ’s birth not to visit Herod on their way home. Herod had said, “Search diligently for the child . . . that I too may do Him homage” (Matthew 2:8), but we know how that story ended (Matthew 2:16). Yet if Jesus’ death was among the things Mary pondered in her heart (Luke 2:19) from Simeon’s prophecy and Herod’s hatred, her faith never wavered. She lived-out her Magnificat to the end (Luke 1:46-49):

My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior.  For he has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness, from now on will all ages call me blessed. The Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is His name.

How many of us can say “God has done great things for me” in great tragedy, or in anticipation of tragedy? How many of us would have had the love, courage, and strength to stand at the foot of the cross? How many of us do today?

May we follow the faith of the Virgin Mary and share her complete commitment, even at great personal cost, to her Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the Gospel in Glass and Christianity Richly!

Let Me Make Everyone Angry II

In Christianity on April 9, 2011 at 3:35 pm

It’s the “morning after”—the morning after the threatened shutdown of the government.

According to the New York Times, agreement was reached at the last hour to fund the government. This morning’s cable news tended to cover everything but this agreement—with MSNBC doing a feature several minutes long about a book on amusement parks. One might wonder why our current politically obsessed, do-nothing Congress did not qualify as an amusement park, but no mention was made.

So what happened? With the Times article reporting conflicting statements by Democrats and Republicans, we should be thankful for Life Legal Defense Fund’s website. Consider supporting their good work in the defense of life.

LLDF’s site had a link to, which offered this analysis. Apparently, HR 1363 restricts funding for abortion in the nation’s capital, as well as requiring Senate Democrats to allow a vote on health care repeal and Planned Parenthood funding. Thanks are due and, given the almost impenetrable language of the legislation itself. Want a look?

We can be thankful for some progress on pro-life issues.  We can only wait to see how the subsequent votes are cast on healthcare and Planned Parenthood.

Republicans understand the issues of pre-birth health and right to life. Democrats understand and respond better to this issues of life post-birth. May we see continued movement toward compassion and “choice” for the unborn, matched by social responsibility toward the living.  I wish I were more hopeful.  But given the theological virtues—faith, hope, and love—let’s strive to hope, while speaking up to make a difference, my Christian brothers and sisters.

Let Me Make Everyone Angry

In Christianity on April 9, 2011 at 2:07 am

Cecile Richards of Planned Parenthood (PP) was on MSNBC as I began this post. Her argument was that PP does preventative care, affordable early detection of breast and cervical cancer, and family planning. Lawrence O’Donnell, one of my favorite commentators, appeared later in the day reading an email endorsing PP that left him all choked up.

Planned Parenthood does provide medical services that are a huge help to the medically under-served in the U.S.  And PP should be commended for that. But the overriding argument here is not about the good PP does. It is about the non-negotiable horror they inflict. Click here: “abortion is a safe and legal way to end pregnancy.”

You be the judge.  First, look at the Life Legal Defense Foundation’s website. Then read Harry Reid’s approach to the issue here. Then look at Magaret Sanger’s views (she is closely identified with PP, as you’ll see here). Despite her controversial views on many subjects, including contraception, even she was opposed to abortion: “While there are cases where even the law recognizes an abortion as justifiable if recommended by a physician, I assert that the hundreds of thousands of abortions performed in America each year are a disgrace to civilization.”

This is not women’s health. Look at Priests for Life’s site (be warned: there are graphic photographs that show the horror of abortion, but those photos are not on the home page). Imagine, God help us, the terrors of a partial birth abortion— because the parent didn’t intend for for the child to live, but waited to exercise “choice.”

This is not “choice,” the mantra that has been attached by advocates to the issue. “Choice” has great resonance for U.S. voters, like motherhood and apple pie. But abortion is the “choice” to destroy of thousands of human lives daily (by some estimates, 3,500 per day). Read Princeton professor Robert P. George’s The Clash of Orthodoxies. The value of human life is intrinsically good (based on what we are), not merely instrumentally good (based whether the life will be useful, or even “convenient”).

Now, perhaps turnabout is fair play. Let me make all my conservative friends angry. With the horrific exception of abortion, the Democrats are a lot closer to “getting it right” than the Republicans. The Democrats are the party of compassion.  That has been demonstrated over decades.  Even today, do any of us really think that cutting taxes, repealing healthcare, and cutting state and federal services is a Christian response to societal needs around us?

Consider, too, that much of Washington is driven by corporate money. Corporations are legally chartered to be pathologically selfish. “They sell the just man for silver, and the poor man for a pair of sandals. They trample the heads of the weak into the dust of the earth, and force the lowly out of the way.” The quotation from Amos 2:6-7 is a fair  description of the impact of large corporations (I’m not talking about small, family companies).  If you want a more current assessment than that of Amos, watch the film, The Corporation, or read the book. And it might be interesting to add Inside Job and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room to your “films to be watched” list.

Shut the government down if we must. Abortion cannot continue. But please don’t imagine the Republicans have all the answers.

A Thought for Lent

In Christianity, Lent on April 4, 2011 at 12:36 pm

Without being antinomian, remember that inconstancy and failure are common to us all. We wish it were not so. But thankfully, God has purposed to bring good from evil; sanctity from sin.

What must be our response?  Always:

  • Get up again. “Get back on the path,” as a wonderful friend in Philadelphia, James Montgomery Boice, often said.
  • Tell our Lord of your love for Him and sorrow for sin.
  • Believe the words of The Sacrament of Reconciliation: “I absolve you.”  Christ has given this power to the successors to His Apostles (Matthew 16:19).
  • Find and fortify the weaknesses in your sanctity defenses. The enemy will attack at your point of greatest weakness, as St. Ignatius has written.
  • Live in Light!  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God . . . through Him was life, and this life was the light of the human race; the light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it!” (John 1:1, 4-5)
  • Redeem the time.  You and I don’t have time for sin, because by God’s grace and desire to use us for His purposes, so much remains to do!

Good from evil.  Sanctity from sin!  That is Christianity Richly.