Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Surgical Fantasy

My newest article in Touchstone has been posted online.

Surgical Fantasy

Robert Hart on Biblical Compassion for Sex-Change Confusion
God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints. (1 Cor. 14:33)
The invention of a new "civil right" is being forced upon us. I believe that if the great martyr of genuine civil rights could see what is being done in the name of his cause, he would be displeased—that is, if the things he actually believed in his lifetime are taken into account.


Read more:http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=29-03-025-v#ixzz46J8oKzNh


Friday, April 15, 2016

Saturday, April 09, 2016

SECOND SUNDAY AFTER EASTER


II Peter 2:19-25 * John 10:11-16


The Epistle we read today is drawn, as I hope many of you have noticed, from that very famous Suffering Servant passage in the book of Isaiah, specifically chapters 52:13-53:12. I have said before that the Suffering Servant passage goes beyond Christ’s atoning death, predicting as well his resurrection by telling us that he would, after death, “prolong his days” as the agent of God’s will. It predicts the day of Pentecost by telling us that Christ would “divide the spoil with the strong.” This echoes words from Psalm 68: 18: “Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men.” But, as the chapter draws to a close, the prophet takes us back to the cross, because that was the main thrust of this particular passage. In this way the Holy Spirit reminds us, through the prophetic oracle, that all of the grace, and, indeed every gift, that God gives to us has come by way of the cross of Christ. St. Anselm taught that Christ did all the work, and after earning a great reward for his labor, gives all of the benefits of his work away. He gives all of the earning, profit and reward to us. For, he is God the Son, and has need of nothing.

The emphasis of that passage is what Jesus did for us, and very importantly, what he did as the One for the Many. And, I can think of no better summary of that prophetic passage about the sacrifice Jesus offered of his own life, than the words of St. Paul from the fifth chapter of Romans:

"For if by one man's offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous."

So, we get that message, that Jesus died for our sins just as scripture foretold. St. Peter puts it to us with great force: “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree.” That’s the first message. Christ offered himself as the Lover of mankind, in fact, as the one who loves you. He is the sacrifice not just for the whole world, but for you; dying as much foreach as for all.      This is why I tell you so often; when you look up at the crucifix where he pours out his soul unto death, and you see his love there, take it personally.

When we prayed the Collect today, we asked for understanding and for grace to see in his death two very important things that go together. This is what we prayed: “Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life; Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavor ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same, thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” This Collect is drawn from the Epistle we read.

"For even hereunto were ye called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that ye should follow his steps: who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth: who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not: but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously: who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed. For ye were as sheep going astray: but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls."

This follows an exhortation to be patient when suffering wrongfully.   “If, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” Peter tells us that when we follow Christ our Lord, we may expect to find the cross awaiting us. When we find it, and find no way around it, we may embrace it as the will of God, just as Jesus did.

The Lord spoke clearly of the difference between a true shepherd and a mere hireling, “whose own the sheep are not.” The Church has had its fill of hirelings. We know that the Church must tend to business in this world. Indeed, every family must conduct business. We all must have a place to live, food on the table, and utilities. So, the Church, like every family, must engage in a certain amount of practical business. Jesus sent his disciples to buy the things needed for the Passover; every family must conduct these practical matters of business.

But, though the Church must take care of a certain amount of necessary practical matters of business, the Church is not business. We are not here to earn a profit (and thank God, because we would be failures if we had to be judged by the criteria of the marketplace).   And, the work of the clergy is to serve as shepherds, and so carry on the work of Jesus himself.        It is to care for God’s people, not to devour them, and not to abandon them in the face of danger, like the hireling who sees the wolf coming, and flees.

Some men receive Holy Orders and become hirelings; and, if they are not hirelings for money, they may be hirelings for something else.  I see, sometimes, young men who were ordained much too early, and who imagine that the priesthood will give them status and prestige. They love the title, they love the vestments, and, they remind me all too often of the words of Jesus, about the Pharisees who loved greetings in the marketplaces, and to be called of men, Rabbi. 1 Well, if they stick long enough, they find the cross that they cannot get around. That is when they find out if they were ordained for the right reason.

Look at the closing words of today’s Gospel: “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.” I have no doubt that this speaks mainly about the inclusion of the Gentiles, the grafting in of non-Jews to the cultivated olive tree of Israel. These words only started to be fulfilled when St. Peter went to the House of Cornelius to see Pentecost repeated and the Holy Spirit poured out on Gentiles. It is also right for us to see that, even today, there remain yet other sheep, not of this fold, who need to be brought in. The work is far from over, and each of you may have a share of that work. Because “you are the Body of Christ and members in particular 2,” each endowed with special gifts for ministry by the Holy Spirit, you are called to share the work of bringing those other sheep in. And, that is a win-win proposition. It is good for the parish, and good for them, indeed, a lifeline sent out to them.

If we are to work in God’s field with all the mess sheep bring, and the dangers presented by the wolf, we need not worry about finding the cross. It always finds us if we are faithful to Christ. It will be there; that I can promise each of you. The cross, in some form or other, is all that the fallen sinful world has for true servants of Jesus Christ. Not honor, respect or esteem; the cross. So, you don’t need to go looking for the cross, because the world is quite aggressive in providing it. Like the Son of God, who endured the cross, and thought nothing of the shame of the cross, for the joy set before him3, may each of you have grace to endure, to hope, and to follow in his footsteps. The suffering is but for a moment; the joy is eternal.

On his cross, the Good shepherd died for us; and by his cross he showed to us how to follow him on the path of life.

1. Matt. 23:7
2. I Cor. 12:27
3. Heb. 12:2

Monday, April 04, 2016

The Annunciation of the blessed Virgin Mary.


Transferred this year to April 5 from March 25th
For this Feast day of the Annunciation I want us to meditate on two very important things.

The first is the meaning of the Incarnation in light of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. For, as soon as the Angel Gabriel announced to the blessed Virgin that she was to become the mother of God, the miracle happened. "The Word was made flesh" at the very instant that she accepted her mission with the words, "behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word." 

The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats (Matthew 25:31-46) tells of those on the Lord's right hand, to whom the words are spoken: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." It also tells of those on his left to whom terrifying words are spoken: "Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels...Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me." 

The Word became flesh, that is, he took into his Divine nature the fullness of human nature. In so doing he sanctified every stage of life, including that of the youngest and most helpless of all people. His brethren include children in the womb, boys and girls not "lumps of tissue," many of whom are murdered every day for the selfish convenience of fallen men who do not know God, who have allowed love to grow cold. The culture of death teaches us that life in the womb is worth nothing, a mere thing to be thrown away. Indeed, the pressure today is to accept birth as the beginning of life, when, in fact, it is simply an early stage in a life that has existed already, generally for about nine months.

As Christians, we must continue to work for the sanctity of all life, from the moment of conception until death. We must do all we can to protect the children in danger, and to come as well to the rescue of expentent mothers who feel afraid, who feel undue pressure to kill their children before seeing their faces, and think they have no one to whom they can turn. We must be that lifeline to them. "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. "

 Also, I want us to consider this miracle, the Incarnation, itself. I mentioned before that Mary accepted her mission, a mission that would bring such pain to her, one Friday, that it would be, in the words of Simeon, a sword that would pierce her own soul. Her willingness to accept this mission would be fulfilled thirty three years later by her son, as he would pray in his agony, "not my will, but thine be done." Mary was the only person to share directly the miracle of the Incarnation with the Lord himself. She also felt keenly the pain of his death.

What happened when the Word, that is the Logos (λόγος), was made flesh? How did God do this thing? Not by reducing Divinity so that it could fit into a small receptacle. Think of our human nature as but a drop. A drop that falls into an ocean is transformed into something grand, into part of an ocean. He did not reduce divinity. Rather, he took human nature into his own divine Person as God the Son. God the Son has taken human nature into His Divine Person, our created nature into uncreated Person. He has taken what is alien to Him, our humanity, as the One who is wholly other from every created nature, to forever transform human nature and by grace make us partakers of the Divine Nature (II Peter 1:4). This Person, the Logos, is both Uncreated and creature; both Eternal and in time; both omnipresent and local; both King and servant; both Lord and worshiper; both God and man.

This, the Incarnation, is, along with the cross, the expression and revelation of God's love; so it is fitting to remember that the Annunciation was originally thought to be the correct date of the first Good Friday. That love is the charity that St. Paul wrote about to the Corinthians, and is poured into our hearts by the Holy Ghost given to us.
__________________________
 

The Angleus

V/. The Angel of the Lord brought tidings unto Mary,
R/. And she conceived by the Holy Ghost.

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. (Lk 1:28) Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. (Lk 1:42). Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.
V/. "Behold the handmaid of the Lord."
R/. "Be it unto me according to thy Word."

Hail Mary, full of grace...
V/. And the Word was made flesh,
R/. And dwelt among us.

Hail Mary, full of grace...
V/. Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God.
R/. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.


Let us pray: We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts, that as we have known the Incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by His Cross and Passion we may be brought unto the glory of His Resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, April 02, 2016

First Sunday after Easter

    

I John 5:4-12 * John 20:19-23

One day in 2011 Diane and I went together to Carol Woods, to the nursing home building, so that we could visit a long time member of St. Benedict’s, and I could give her communion. When we were there she told us about someone she knows who has been in absolute terror because of the recent tornados (some of the worst ever that very morning). As we conversed, we discussed the theory that our technology can give us the illusion of safety. But, it is an illusion. Anyone of us could die at any moment. No one is guaranteed another breath. Our Archbishop likes to tell the anecdote of a priest who signed the record book we all keep before a service began. An older gentleman said to him: “You have shown great presumption, and may be guilty of falsifying a public record.” One presumption, I think, was that he had been so confident that he would be alive at the end of the service.

On April 28, 2002, an F4 tornado landed in a Southern Maryland town called LaPlata. That is the second largest kind of tornado. The storm then came across the Chesapeake Bay, unknown to Diane and me. We had started a drive home from Easton, Maryland, where I had celebrated at the altar of St. Andrew’s. During our drive home, which was usually half an hour, we had to pull off the road into the parking lot of a large shopping center. The reason we had to pull over was that rain was blinding us. The rain was coming at us sideways from all directions. As we sat in that parked car, I looked up into the actual F4 tornado. It was right over us. Lightening was going around in a circle, seeming more like a man-made light show than anything natural. Suddenly it was all over, and everything was peaceful.

Looking up into the belly of the beast, I realized afterward, that I did not have any feeling whatsoever of fear. This may be due, in part to the purpose for which God created fear, namely a survival instinct. For, there was nothing to do, and nowhere to go. It would land on us and kill us, or it would not. But, especially after celebrating the Holy Eucharist, I think the bigger reason why I did not feel any fear had everything to do with what I am about to tell you.

"Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord."
This is one of the most important lines in all of Scripture. Our faith is not based on religious concepts and ideas, but on solid fact. They were glad, and that means they saw and believed. When St. Paul summarized the Gospel for the Church in Corinth (Cor. 15:1f), he recited four facts: 1. Christ died for our sins, 2) He was buried, 3) He rose the third day, and 4) He appeared to witnesses. These facts of the Gospel were "according to the Scriptures," meaning, these facts fulfilled the Scriptural foretelling of the prophets that Messiah would come the first time as priest and sacrifice, and that after his death he would rise again:

"Yet it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief: when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand." (Isaiah 53:10)

He had died as the sin offering, and now he was alive again, a man once dead, but who prolongs his days as the one in whose hand the will of God prospers forever. For a dead man to prolong his days, he must rise again. And, what is the will of God that prospers in his hand? Our collect for today provides part of the answer: "Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification..." These words were drawn from St. Paul's Epistle to the Church in Rome:

"And therefore it [faith] was imputed to him [Abraham] for righteousness. Now it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:22-25)

On Good Friday we had a very mournful service, for that was the day in which Christ fulfilled the Scriptures of the prophets, that he would die as the offering for sin, fulfilling as well the entire symbolic system of sacrifice in the Law of Moses. On that day we saw him as Passover Lamb and as the Atonement slain on Yom Kippor. We saw his soul sorrowful unto death the night before in the garden, and we were with him at the cross. On Sunday, that is on Easter, we were suddenly glad, sharing the joy of those who first witnessed the sight of the risen Christ. "And when he had so said, he shewed unto them his hands and his side. Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord. "

Our faith is based on fact. They saw him risen again, and they witnessed this sight together as a group. Their testimony was a shared testimony, something that by its nature cannot be dismissed as a delusion. His death was a fact, and his resurrection was a fact. But, now we must see not only these facts, but the meaning of these facts. His resurrection showed that He had been, all along, exactly who he claimed to be. He was vindicated. Indeed, before Abraham, He had been and always was I AM. He was, and throughout eternity had always been, One with the Father. And, yet though he was the one vindicated, that is whose words were proved true, it is we who are justified freely by His grace.

His vindication was made into our justification; for now Christ Jesus the Lord had taken away sin and had defeated death. If we hold fast and believe, we will spend eternity not only as forgiven sinners, whose Lord died to bring that forgiveness to his people; for even beyond having been forgiven, if we hold fast and believe, we will spend eternity as the children of God through the grace of the risen Lord, fully justified as if we had never sinned at all. We are forgiven because he died, and we are justified because he rose again and ever lives to make intercession for us. That means we have been made righteous, as if we had never sinned at all, in the sight of God. Forgiveness is made richer because of Divine forgetfulness, as the Bible also states plainly: He forgets our sins. So, in the eyes of God, because Christ rose again from the dead, we are restored fully and given the eternal inheritance that our first father lost. 

We have been allowed to start all over again, and to become God's own children through Christ. This has everything to do with that little two word phrase that St. Paul repeats throughout his epistles: "In Christ." It is a small phrase, and thus easily overlooked. And, yet, it is our identity in the eyes of God; it is your identity, and has been ever since the day you were baptized into Christ. If you are "in Christ" and if you abide and dwell in Christ, God sees you in the Person of His only begotten Son. He sees you in His Son, the one Beloved of the Father in all eternity.

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved." (Eph. 1:3-6)

That God sees you in the Person of His only begotten Son means that, even beyond forgiveness, you have been justified as if you had never been born in sin, and had never sinned yourself. That is justification; that is adoption as a child of God; that is what it means to be "in Christ."

This is why it is so very tragic when any child of God chooses to live as merely a son of this fallen world ("For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive"). You do not belong to this world of sin and death, and have no business living as if you did. Because we are justified freely in the Risen Christ, we are called to sanctification, that process whereby we become saints.

A saint is, simply, a holy person. In an objective sense you have been made holy by having been separated from the world of sin and death, and set apart unto God. This was done in your baptism. But, in terms of the life you live here on earth, as we also have seen in the epistles of St. Paul, you have the vocation, that is the calling, to become holy, to be a saint, conformed to the image of Christ in this world. Growing in the grace of God and acquiring holy virtues, above all charity, is the vocation every child of God has in common. This we cannot do if we choose to live in the darkness of carnality and selfishness.

The disciples were glad when they saw the Lord, though as yet they did not fully comprehend all that it meant. But, they could quickly comprehend that Christ's resurrection demonstrated the goodwill, the love and saving intention, of God. Somehow, it meant that everything he had suffered was part of the plan; it demonstrated that he had been in control all along; it meant that the fear and suffering of Friday was not a defeat, but rather the very plan, just as their Master had foretold several times. For example, hear these words from the Gospel of Mark:


"And they were in the way going up to Jerusalem; and Jesus went before them: and they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid. And he took again the twelve, and began to tell them what things should happen unto him, Saying, Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be delivered unto the chief priests, and unto the scribes; and they shall condemn him to death, and shall deliver him to the Gentiles: And they shall mock him, and shall scourge him, and shall spit upon him, and shall kill him: and the third day he shall rise again." (Mark 10:32-34)

The resurrection demonstrated that Christ had come to be our Salvation from sin and death, that God had come in peace rather than as an enemy. "For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved." (John 3:17)

"Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord."

Now, it was time for the Lord to send them out.

"Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you."

This means that the Apostles were, and therefore the Apostolic Church is, in the world as the Body of Christ, the extension of His Incarnation. It means the Apostolic Church (including you and me) is here to assist and work with God in the service and ministry of reconciliation, calling all men everywhere to repent, filling the world with the Good News that Jesus Christ has taken away sin and conquered death. It means the Apostolic Church, of which you are a part, is to go into the highways and hedges and compel people to come in that his house may be filled. It means that you are here on a mission of peace, to help your neighbor obtain peace with God through Jesus Christ.

"And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost: whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained."

This too speaks of the Church as the Body of Christ. Of course, it speaks directly of a sacrament that belongs to the Apostolic ministry of Christ's own priesthood though ordained men. And, I have challenged those who reject our belief in the sacrament of Absolution, in these words: "If your church has no one in it who believes that he has the authority to forgive sins, how can you say that you are in the same Church founded by the Risen Lord Jesus Christ through his Apostles?"

More largely, it speaks of God's purpose that forgiveness of sins be spread far and wide. Yes, forgiveness is conditional. Indeed, after the General Confession (for example) you hear conditions in the Absolution that follows, namely, "hearty repentance and true faith." "Hearty" means simply, from the heart, or, sincere. Repentance must be sincere; not necessarily emotional; but sincere. And, "true faith" may be as small as a grain of mustard seed, for even that little is enough; for it is faith in God Who is infinite. More largely, the Good News is that the risen Christ has commissioned the Church of His Apostles to be His instrument of forgiveness, not of condemnation.

In all of history, no line has been more important than this: "Then were the disciples glad when they saw the Lord." His resurrection was a fact they could see, hear and touch. To this fact they have borne witness by preaching the Gospel, their own eyewitness testimony courageously declared, unrelentingly declared even to the shedding of their blood as His faithful martyrs. For, above all else, the message of his resurrection from the dead on the third day is the message of God's love, that God sent his Son came into the world to be our Salvation; He is our peace and reconciliation with God.

This is the message Christ has commissioned though His Apostolic Church. Therefore, we too believe he has risen, and are glad.