Friday, December 07, 2018

Feast of Ambrose, Bishop of Milan

O God, you gave your servant Ambrose grace eloquently to proclaim your righteousness in the great congregation, and fearlessly to bear reproach for the honor of your Name: Mercifully grant to all bishops and pastors such excellence in preaching and faithfulness in ministering your Word, that your people may be partakers with them of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Ambrose was born in the year 337 to a Christian family. His father, Aurelius, was Prefect of Gaul, governing all of Britain, France, Spain,Portugal, part of Germany, and the islands of Sardinia, Corsica, and Sicily. His father’s palace was in Trier, Germany, but his mother had a palace in Rome. Ambrose spent part of the year in Germany and part in Rome. According to his biographer, Paulinus, the pope and other important bishops used to visit his mother’s palace regularly. One day the ladies of the house were kissing the hands of the bishops, and young Ambrose, holding out his hand, mocked them and said, “You should do the same for me since I am going to be a bishop.” He was very close to his siblings, Marcellina and Satyrus. When his sister Marcellina took a vow of virginity, he did the same, and both Ambrose and Satyrus followed in their father’s footsteps, studying literature, law, and rhetoric in Rome and they both served as barristers in the Court of the Praetorian Prefect of Italy. They were both appointed Prefects.

Ambrose was appointed Prefect of the province of Aemilia-Liguria in Upper Italy, with its headquarters in Milan. Ambrose was a good administrator and a popular governor. In the year 374, Auxentius, the bishop of Milan, died. The Church in Milan was divided between those who were loyal to the Nicene Creed and those who supported the ideas of Arius. The Nicene and Arian parties of the Church in Milan prepared to fight for their particular candidates to be elected bishop. We’ve talked before about how the people of that era would actually fight and come to blows over theology and dogma, and the situation in Milan threatened to turn violent. Ambrose, the prefect, went to the basilica in Milan to try to prevent an uproar. He spoke to those gathered at the basilica and he didn’t take sides in the dispute. Suddenly someone shouted “Ambrose for bishop!” The cry was taken up by others and Ambrose was elected bishop. He was not interested in the position, plus, he wasn’t even a baptized Christian, let alone clergy! He pushed his way out of the cathedral and headed back to his palace. He figured that if he proved himself to be as cruel and evil as the Emperor Valentinian. He ordered some prisoners to be tortured, figuring that this would convince the people that they had made a mistake in their choice, but the crowed followed him around Milan, saying, “Your sin be on us!” He invited Women of Loose Virtue to his palace, yet the crowd still shouted “Your sin be on us!” Then he told them that he was going to retire from the world and become a hermit, but no one was buying it. Finally, he decided to make a break for it and snuck out the side door of the palace late one night to escape. It was a moonless night and he took the wrong road and got lost. In the morning he discovered his mistake; he was entering Milan through the Roman gate. This time he was kept under “Palace Arrest;” a guard kept watch while a messenger was sent to Valentinian, explaining what was going on and requesting an imperial seal on the people’s decision. Valentinan probably had his reasons for getting Ambrose out of the position of Prefect, and so he sent a fast courier to give the Christians of Milan his assent to Ambrose’s episcopacy. However, Ambrose had made another break for it and was hiding at his friend, Leontius’ country house. The Pope got involved and ordered that anyone harboring Ambrose must, under pain of severe punishment, give him up immediately (which was the Christian thing to do, of course!). That was too much for Leontius, who turned his good buddy Ambrose in to the authorities. Ambrose was arrested and led back to Milan under armed guard.

Ambrose’ elevation to bishop took place over six days. First, he was baptized, then moved through the minor orders: appointed to doorkeeper one day; the next day appointed Lector; the following day appointed to the office of exorcist; the next day he became a subdeacon. On the last three days he was ordained deacon, priest, and finally, bishop. No one had ever risen through the ranks so quickly!


Ambrose was very interested in relics, and one of the first acts of his episcopacy was to write Bishop Basil of Caesarea to request that the remains of St. Dionysius be brought to the cathedral in Milan. Basil agreed, and sent along a letter with the relics which called Ambrose a man of noble birth, of high office, of lofty character, of astonishing eloquence. Ambrose also searched for relics in Milan, checking the martyrologies and it is claimed that he discovered the relics of saints Gervasius and Protasius, who had been martyred by Nero, and also saint Nazarius, as well as saints Agricola and Vitalis, whose remains he discovered on a visit to Bologna.

Ambrose cared for the poor. In order to insure that the poor were cared for, he often sold the churches gold-plated vessels. When the Arians accused him of sacrilege for these actions, he responded, “which do you consider more valuable, church vessels or living souls?” He lived simply and fasted often as a means of saving money for the diocese. He had already given away his own inheritance to help the poor, and he couldn’t understand why wealthy Christians didn’t do the same. When his brother Satyrus died without leaving a will, Ambrose and his sister Marcellina inherited the fortune. They sold all of it and used the proceeds to help the poor. Satyrus’ death put Ambrose into a depression, which he decided to cure through work and study. He wasn’t much of a reader before, but after Satyrus death he began to study and read and write. Because he could read and write Greek, which was unusual for those in the West at that time, he was able to study the Christian scriptures in their original language, as well as the writings of Philo, Origen, Athanasius, and Basil of Caesarea. His rhetorical skills enabled him to be a great preacher, and his preaching and theological discussions helped bring about the conversion of Augustine of Hippo. Ambrose was a great theologian, and he was also a poet and composer of music. In fact, five hymns in the 1940 Hymnal and eleven hymns in the 1982 Hymnal are attributed to him.

Ambrose had a full, active, and fulfilling episcopacy. He interacted with popes and emperors and never stopped caring for the poor. The winter of the year 396 was a difficult winter for him, as he was slowly dying. He had many secretaries who stayed next to his bed as he whispered his commentaries and letters and sermons. His chief secretary and biographer, Paulinus wrote that one day he saw a flame shaped like a small shield covering Ambrose’s head. Ambrose then sucked the flame down into his mouth and his face became dead white for a few minutes. Everyone in Italy was praying for Ambrose’s recovery; even the Regent, Stilicho, had issued an imperial order which read Ambrose must recover. The Regent said, “When Ambrose dies we shall see the ruin of Italy.” When Ambrose heard this, he said, “I have not so lived among you as to be ashamed to live on’ but I am not afraid to die, for our Lord is good.” A few days before he died he said that he saw Jesus coming to get him, sitting by his bedside. He lay with his arms stretched out in the form of a cross and prayed for several days. He died the day before Easter on April 4, 397, at the age of 58. He was bishop of Milan for twenty-three years and four months.

Thursday, December 06, 2018

Feast of Nicholas, Bishop of Myra

Almighty God, in your love you gave your servant Nicholas of Myra a perpetual name for deeds of kindness both on land and sea: Grant, we pray, that your Church may never
cease to work for the happiness of children, the safety of sailors, the relief of the poor, and the help of those tossed by tempests of doubt or grief; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


St. Nicholas is one of the most popular saints on the calendar; he is honored by the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Anglican, and even Reformed Protestant churches. He is the person upon whom the Santa Claus myth story is based. As is usually the case, we don't have a lot of good historical information on Nicholas. We know he lived in Asia Minor in the late Third/early Fourth century. We know that he was Bishop of Myra, and we know that he died on December 6, 342. Other than those facts, all the stories about Nicholas are based upon church tradition and legends and some of them may not have even happened, but they are good stories, full of dreams and miracles.

According to tradition, Nicholas was born in the town of Patar in Lycia, in what we now call the nation of Turkey. He was orphaned at an early age and had to live with his uncle in a monastery. His late parents were wealthy and left him a good inheritance, but he gave most of it away to the poor and needy since he was living in a monastery and didn't really need any of it. He wanted to be a monk like us uncle, but one night he had a dream in which Jesus gave him a jeweled copy of the four gospels, and he took this dream as a sign that he was to become a priest, and he did so at the age of 17 (I guess the Commission on Ministry had different age requirements in those days). He was a very generous person and there are many stories about his generosity. Once he met a man in great need, and the man had decided to sell a carpet which was very dear to him and his wife. Father Nicholas bought the carpet from the man at a ridiculously high price, and then gave the carpet to the man's wife as a gift. The most famous story is that of a poor man with three daughters. He had no money to provide them with dowries and was worried that they would never be married and would probably face slavery as a result of their poverty. Nicholas tossed a bag of gold coins into the eldest daughter's window one night, and she was soon married. A while later, he tossed a bag of gold coins into the second daughter's window and she, too, was soon married. When it came time to provide a dowry for the third daughter, Nicholas came to toss a bag of gold coins into her window but it was closed, so he tossed it down the chimney, and the bag of coins fell into her shoes (and she, too, was soon married). This legend is the basis of the tradition in some countries of St. Nicholas putting chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil in children's shoes. It's also the basis of the story of Santa Claus coming down the chimney with gifts for good boys and girls on Christmas Eve.

There is a tradition that Nicholas made a pilgrimage to Egypt, to visit the great Library in Alexandria, and continued on to the Holy Land, to Palestine. There is a story that on the way home the ship he was on was caught in a fierce storm an d the three sailors piloting the ship were sure that they were going to die. Father Nicholas came on deck and prayed and stilled the storm. For this reason he became known as the Patron Saint of Sailors. The ship stopped in the city of Myra. The bishop of Myra had died and there was a lot of disagreement about who should be the next bishop. The clergy and people of Myra had started a period of prayer and fasting trying to find a solution to their problem. An angel appeared to several priests in a dream and told them that they were to make a stranger, named Nicholas, the new bishop, and that he would be the first to arrive for morning prayers the next day. That same night, Father Nicholas had a dream of a mitre being placed on his head. The next morning he went to the church for morning prayers and was the first person there. He was proclaimed bishop and the mitre was placed upon his head! He was a good choice for bishop because of his concern for the poor and needy, and his love of children, and his piety and zeal for the gospel. Miracles were attributed to him, and he was nick-named the Wonder Worker. He was also a man of great courage, and he suffered arrest and torture during the persecution of Diocletian and his regent, Maximan, around the years 303 to 311. It is said that Bishop Nicholas continued to preach and teach even while in chains. When Constantine became emperor in 313 and later issued the Edict of Toleration, Christianity became tolerated (and actually favored) by the Empire and people like Nicholas were released from prison. There is an ancient tradition that Nicholas saved the lives of three soldiers who were imprisoned by appearing to the Emperor in his dreams and interceding in their behalf. Just before Constantine became emperor, the Arian Controversy was in full flower in the Church, creating great dissension and schism. The Emperor Constantine called all the bishops of the Church to Nicea in 325 to settle this dispute. Tradition states that Bishop Nicholas of Myra attended the Council and even slapped Arius in the face, but Nicholas' name does not appear on any of the lists, so this incident and Nicholas' attendance at the Council is in doubt. Nevertheless, Arianism never took hold in Myra, so the faithful teaching of Nicholas must have prevented the heresy in that city.

Nicholas died on December 6, 342, and this day is now a feast day. During the Middle Ages it was a popular practice to elect a boy to be bishop who reigned from December 6th to December 28th, the Feast of the Holy Innocents. On that day (the 28th) the "boy bishop" had to preach a sermon in church. It also became popular to give gifts on Nicholas' feast day in honor of his own generosity, especially to children. In Germany, Switzerland, and the Netherlands, this tradition replaced the ancient yuletide celebration of Woden. After the Protestant Reformation, St. Nicholas became known as Pere Noel in France, Father Christmas in England,Kriskindl in Germany, Grandfather Frost in Russia, and Sinterklaas in Holland. The mispronunciation of Sinterklaas in the United States resulted in the name Santa Claus.

It's easy to to understand how the example of the kind and generous man who truly lived the Christian life could become a symbol of love and generosity during the seasons of Advent and Christmas, the time in which we remember God's own gift to the world, the gift of Jesus the Messiah. St. Nicholas' love and compassion for the poor, the needy, and for children is an example of how we should live our lives throughout the entire year, not just at Christmas. The stories of St. Nicholas are not stories about Christmas but are stories of a man who was working to bring about the Reign of God, a man who helped the less fortunate, just as Jesus commanded. That is why he became one of the most popular saints in Christendom and why we remember him today.

Since I'm not using Holy Joes and Holy Janes or whatever that new book is called, I'm assuming that this is still Old St. Nick's saint day.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Feast of James, Bishop of Jerusalem and Martyr


Grant, O God, that, following the example of your servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, your Church may give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of all who are at variance and enmity; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, friend of Padre Mickey's Dance Party
Let’s talk about siblings; not everyone has brothers and sisters, but if you do, I have a question: Did you always get along with your brothers and sisters? If your family is like most families, I would say 'probably not.' Usually there is some sibling rivalry in a family and there can be some competition between the children; competition for the attention of the parents, competition in the area of school work, competition in sports and winning awards. I am the eldest of four children, and the birth order is boy-girl-boy-girl, and there is eighteen months between my sister Melanie and I and eighteen months between Melanie and Jim and then four years between Jim and Marcella. Melanie and I are close in age and close in interests and close in abilities. We are both musicians, we both work in churches, and we have similar tastes in art, literature, music and politics. We are both rather competitive and always have been so. When I was trying to learn my multiplication tables, Melanie was right there paying attention and actually learning them. That's just normal sibling rivalry. Maybe your relationship with your siblings is similar, and maybe they think that you overshadow them or you thing that they overshadow you. I think that this is pretty normal in sibling relationships. But imagine having a brother who calls himself "the Son of Man," who wanders around the country, attracting crowds, healing the sick, bringing sight to the blind, preaching forgiveness of sins and proclaiming the coming of the Reign of God. Talk about overshadowing! How do you compete with someone like that?

Today is the Feast of St. James of Jerusalem, the brother of our Lord, Jesus Christ. James was one of Jesus' four brothers, but we don't know about birth order; some traditions each that the brothers and sisters mentioned in the gospels were Joseph's children from a previous marriage or that they were actually Jesus' cousins. These are good explanations for those who believe that Mary was "ever virgin." Personally, it seems more probable to me that Joseph and Mary had a normal marriage and produced several children. From what we read in the gospels, it seems that Jesus and his family didn't really get along that well; do your remember the story of Mary sending his brothers after him because the family was worried that he was crazy? Did Jesus say to his brothers, "Tell Mom I'll be there once I'm finished talking with these folks"? No, he said, "Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? Everyone who works for the Reign of God is my mother and sister and brother." That answer wouldn't have gone over well with my mother! We don't know what James told his mother back home about what Jesus was doing; we don't know if he told her that Jesus was alright and that he was only doing the will of God. We know that Jesus wasn't well received back home because everyone knew him, but we don't know if his brothers and sisters were part of the unreceptive group. We do know that James was an important leader in the Early Church along with Peter, and we know from Paul's writings and from the Acts of the Apostles that James was the head of the Church in Jerusalem. It was James whom Paul visited when in Jerusalem, and it was James who, after hearing of Paul's mission to the Gentiles decided that the Gentiles would not have to adhere to the Mosiac covenant and be circumcised but adhere to the Noachian covenant, avoiding sexual promiscuity, not eating food sacrificed to idols, and not eating meat from animals which had been strangled, or meat which still had blood in it. We also know that James was one of those to whom Jesus appeared after the Resurrection.
According to Clement of Alexandria, as quoted by Bishop Eusebius, the first historian of the Church, James was the first bishop of Jerusalem. James was a very important figure to the Jewish Christians and his importance is reflected in chapter 12 of the Gospel of Thomas, an early gospel which was not accepted by the Church. It is a collection of sayings of Jesus, and chapter 12 reads: The disciples said to Jesus, "We know that you are going to leave us. Who will be our leader?" Jesus said to them, "No matter where you are, you are to go to James the Just, for whose sake heaven and earth came into being."

According to the Jewish party in the Early Church, James represented Israel, and this is reflected in that passage. James was called the Just or Righteous because of his strict adherence to the Torah. According to Clement of Alexandria, James was: Holy from birth; he drank no wine or intoxicating liquor and ate no animal food; no razor came near his head; he did not smear himself with oil and took no baths. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy Place (Holy of Holies in the Temple), for his garments were not of wool but of linen. He used to enter the Sanctuary alone, and was often found on his knees beseeching forgiveness for the people, so that his knees grew hard like a camel's from his continually bending them in worship of God and beseeching forgiveness for the people. Because of his unsurpassable righteousness he was called the Righteous and bulwark of the People. If it is true that he entered the Holy of Holies, then James was a High Priest of the Temple, which was an important position within the community, both Jewish and Christian (It would also mean that he did take baths, as a ritual bath on the part of the priest is an aspect of the Yom Kippur liturgy). According to Josephus, the Jewish historian of the first century, James was well respected by Jews and Christians because of his righteousness. Some traditions, especially those of the Ebionites, a first-century Jewish-Christian sect, taught that James performed miracles just like Jesus.
I mentioned earlier that the family of Jesus wasn't always supportive of his ministry; we know from scripture that they worried that he might have been a bit crazy, and his brothers were sent by their mother to bring him home. Was James one of the brothers sent to fetch Jesus? Did he think that his brother was behaving strangely by wandering all over Galilee healing and preaching? We don't know what James thought at the time but we do know that he came to accept his brother as Lord. According ot St. Paul, Jesus appeared to James after the Resurrection, and if James had harbored any doubts about his brother's ministry, rest assured that they were swept away by this appearance! The experience was so life-changing that, although James remained a strict follower of the Torah, he also became the leader of the Church in Jerusalem, the first Church. James, just like his brother, was a strong defender and supporter of the poor, as was the Jerusalem Church. The name Ebionites, can be translated to mean "the poor." Paul collected donations for the poor, and these funds were sent back to James and the Church in Jerusalem.

Jesus was executed with the support of the religious authorities of Jerusalem, and according to both Josephus and Clement, as quoted by Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica, James, the brother of Jesus, was also murdered as a result of pressure from the religious authorities. According to Eusebius, James' example and his righteous life had convinced others, even members of the ruling class, that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, and the Scribes and Pharisees were afraid that all the people would accept Jesus as Lord. So, at the Feast of the Passover during the year 62, the Scribes and Pharisees asked James to stand on the Temple parapet so that everyone could see and hear him tell the facts about Jesus, since, as the Scribes and Pharisees said, "the people have gone astray after Jesus." James stood on the parapet, and the Scribes and Pharisees shouted to him: "Righteous One, whose word we are all obliged to accept, the people are going astray after Jesus who was crucified; so tell us, what is meant by 'the door of Jesus?'" And James answered in a loud voice, "Why do you question me about the Son of Man? I tell you, He is sitting in heaven at the right hand of the Great Power, and He will come on the clouds of heaven." And many people believed, and began to shout, "Hosannah to the Son of David!" So now the Scribes and Pharisees were worried and thought, "we really made a mistake putting him up there. We better throw him down so that they will be frightened and not believe him." So they began to shout, "Oh no! Even the Righteous One has gone astray!" and someone pushed James off the parapet and he fell down to the ground. Then they said, "Let us stone James the Righteous" because he was still alive after his fall. While the stones rained upon him, James got to his knees and prayed aloud: "I beseech thee, Lord God and Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing." While the stones were falling like rain upon James, the descendants of Rechab, a priestly family, shouted, "Stop! What are you doing? The Righteous One is praying for you!" Then one of the mob took a fuller's club, which was used to beat out the clothes, and brought it down on James' head, and James died a martyr's death. According to Eusebius’ version of the story, James was buried on the spot, by the Sanctuary, until the destruction of the Temple. According to this account, some believed that the siege of Vespasian and the Jewish War, which culminated in the destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem, were the vengeance of God for the murder of James.

Icon written by Tobias Stanislas Haller, BSG, friend of Padre Mickey's Dance Party
Back in 2002 there was quite a stir caused by an announcement by Hershel Shanks of the Biblical Archeological Review that an ossory, or bone box, had been discovered which was dated to the first century and bore the inscription Ya'akov bar Yosef akhui diYeshua which translates as James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus, in Aramaic. After years of accusations that the inscription is not authentic opinion has changed and, according to the July/August 2012 issue of BAR, it is now considered authentic. This is quite a find!

The word 'martyr' means 'witness,' and James was a witness. He witnessed his brother's ministry, and he was a witness of an appearance of the Resurrected Jesus. His life was a witness to the people of Jerusalem; his strict adherence to the Torah was proof of his righteousness, but he was also able to understand that the Law was not for all, and he realized that the Law would be a burden for the Gentile converts. He understood that to work for the Reign of God meant to speak for, defend, and support the poor, and he did this as Bishop of Jerusalem. He was the brother of Jesus, and as family, probably knew Jesus better than most; even though, at one time, he may have shared the doubts of his family about his brother's sanity, he did believe, and was blessed with a post-Resurrection appearance. He believed his brother's message about the coming of the Reign of God, and he was faithful to this message unto death. The lives of the saints are examples to us all, and the deaths of the martyrs made the church grow. Tertullian, an African leader of the Church in the second century said, "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." James was a bishop, an Apostle, and a Martyr, and he is an example to all of us. Today we celebrate his life and his death. May we keep the memory of James and of all the saints and martyrs as important examples always.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Feast of St. Luke, Evangelist

Almighty God, who inspired your servant Luke the physician to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of your Son: Graciously continue in your Church this love and power to heal, to the praise and glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

As is usually the situation when we talk about the first Christians, we really don’t have a lot of information concerning St. Luke. Some consider him the first historian of the Christian Church due to his book The Acts of the Apostles. I don’t really consider Acts to be a history as much as the second part of the Gospel of Luke. The person I would call the first historian of Christianity, the Bishop Eusebius, wrote that Luke was born in Antioch, in Syria. He was probably a Gentile and not a Jewish convert. In the letter to the Christians in Colossae, Paul mentions the friends who are with him. First he mentions “those of the circumcision,” who are with him (Aristarchus, Mark, and Justus) and then he names Epapharas, Demas, and Luke, whom he calls the beloved physician. We don’t know anything about Luke’s conversion or where it took place, and what we know about his ministry we learn from the Acts of the Apostles. Paul mentions him in his letter to the Colossians, a letter to Timothy, and the letter to Philemon. We know that he traveled with Paul on some of his missionary journeys and also spent time in prison with Paul.

Luke is known for his two volume work which some scholars call “Luke-Acts” or the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles. We may consider this a two volume work rather than two separate books, because of the way it presents the story of the message of Christ. In the first volume, Jesus brings the Good News only to the people of Israel, while the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of how the Good News spread from Jerusalem throughout the Roman Empire. The Acts of the Apostles is interesting in that it is written in the third person, in the language of a historian collecting facts until the sixteenth chapter, when the word “they” changes to “we” and we get a first-person account of Paul’s vision and subsequent mission to Macedonia. Luke probably first joined Paul's company at Troas at about the year 51 and then accompanied him into Macedonia, where they traveled first to Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally Philippi. In the story of the imprisonment of Paul and Silas in Philippi, Luke switches back to the third person, which indicates that he most probably wasn’t in prison with them. It is believed that Luke remained in Philippi to encourage the Christians there. Seven years later, Paul returned to the area on his third missionary journey, and it seems that Luke rejoined Paul in Troas in the year 58, since his account in the Acts of the Apostles returns to the use of “we” rather than “they” in chapter 20. They traveled together through Miletus, Tyre, Caesarea, to Jerusalem. Luke was very loyal to Paul and stayed with him when he was imprisoned in Rome about the year 61. When everyone else had deserted Paul in his final imprisonment and sufferings, Luke remained with him to the end. This close relationship with the apostle Paul was the source of information for Luke’s two-volume work.

Luke's unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in where his gospel differs from the gospels of Mark and Matthew. Luke includes six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Luke's is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. Luke tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Luke uses "Blessed are the poor" instead of "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in the his version of the beatitudes. Luke’s gospel includes angel visitations and the beautiful song of Mary, the Magnificat, in which she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” Luke also seemed to have a special connection with the women in Jesus' life, especially the Blessed Virgin Mary. Luke’s gospel is the only one which includes the story of the Annunciation, of Mary's visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the only gospel with the story of the Presentation, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. A reading of Luke’s gospel may lead one to believe that forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is also of great importance to Luke. Luke’s gospel is the only one which has the story of the Prodigal Son, and only in Luke’s gospel tells the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy. The stories Luke included in his gospel give the impression that he saw Jesus as one who loved the poor, who opened the door of God’s kingdom to everyone, as one who respected women, and who saw hope in God’s mercy for everyone.


A tradition that Luke was a painter seems to have no basis in fact. Several images of Mary appeared in later centuries claiming him as a painter but these claims were proved false. Because of this tradition, however, he is considered a patron of painters of pictures and is often portrayed as painting pictures of Mary. One of the Eastern Orthodox websites I visited claimed that St. Luke was the first to paint an icon, that of the Blessed Virigin Mary.

No one is really sure about Luke’s life after the martyrdom of St. Paul. Epiphanius says that after the martyrdom of St. Paul, St. Luke preached in Italy, Gaul, Dalmatia, and Macedon. Fortunatus and Metaphrastus say he passed into Egypt and preached in Thebais. Nicephorus says he died at Thebes in Boeotia around the year 84, after settling in Greece to write his gospel. St. Hippolytus says St. Luke was crucified at Elaea in Peloponnesus near Achaia. There is a Greek tradition that he was crucified on an olive tree. The ancient African Martyrology gives him the titles of Evangelist and Martyr, and St. Gregory Nazianzen, St. Paulinus, and St. Gaudentius of Brescia all claim that Luke went to God by martyrdom. Bede, Ado, Usuard, and Baronius in the Martyrologies only say he suffered much for the faith, and died very old in Bithynia. Whether he died a quiet death at 84 or whether he won the martyr’s crown, he will always be known for his wonderful two-volume work. What would Christmas be like without Luke’s story of the shepherds and the angelic choir? His story of the descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost has always been an inspiration. And what would Evening Prayer be like without the beauty of the Magnificat? Luke was instrumental in helping spread the word, helping spread the Good News, that forgiveness of sins and the coming of the Reign of God is available to all, and that is why we remember St. Luke today.

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Feast of Francis of Assisi

Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.


Today I’ll talk about a saint who is not one of the early saints and I’m sure you’ll find much better posts about him all over the internet today, but I want to say my piece, too. It was the parish of St. Francis in San José, California, which raised Mona and I up in ministry and supported us in seminary, and they supported our ministry in Panamá all those years ago. But even though Francis isn’t a martyr or from the third century, he is one of my favorite saints. For me, the life of St. Francis is an example of total surrender to God's will, a life which full enjoyed God's creation, and his life is also a model to us of one who is gentle in spirit.

St. Francis was born in the year 1181 in the town of Assisi in Italy. His father was a wealthy merchant who sold cloth. As Francis grew up, he worked in his father's shop, helping sell cloth to the people of Assisi. He and his friends were kind of wild and had parties that lasted until early morning. When he was twenty years old he joined the army. He was captured by the enemy and spent a few months imprisoned. When he was finally released from prison, he returned home to Assisi. When he returned home, he had changed. He was no longer interested in hanging out with his friends, eating and drinking late into the night; he was no longer interested in singing outside the windows of the young women of Assisi. While he was imprisoned he had a lot of time to think, and when he returned to Assisi he no longer found happiness in the silly pursuits of his friends. He began to spend time with the poor of Assisi and helping the lepers on the outskirts of town. He spent less time working at Dad’s shop and more time in prayer in a little grotto outside of town. He and his father argued often about his strange behavior.


One day Francis decided to make a pilgrimage to Rome to see if he could figure out what God wanted of him. While in Rome he realized that he wanted to separate himself from his father's money, and one day he asked a beggar to change clothes with him. He gave the beggar his fancy clothes and put on the beggar's rags. He went around the city and experienced rejection from the well-dressed people and he began to understand the hard life of the poor. He returned to Assisi determined to find a way to please God. He continued to with the lepers of Assisi. Early one morning, he went for a ride on his horse, contemplating the glory of God in nature all around him. He almost fell off his horse when the horse balked at seeing a leper standing on the side of the road with his hand outstretched, hiding his face with his cloak. Francis was about to ride away when he heard a voice in his heart say: "Francis, all that up to now has been hateful to you must change into unspeakable joy!" He got off of his horse and was going to give the leper some coins when he bent down to kiss the sore hand of the leper as a means of seeing the face of Jesus in the leper's face. At the moment he kissed the leper's diseased hand, he felt a sense of liberation and purification. Francis continued to argue with his father and he lost all interest in his father's profession. He kept giving his father's money away. He was finally kicked out of the house and he began to spend a lot of time in a little decrepit church, the church of San Damiano. One day while he was there praying, he looked up at the crucifix and heard it say to him, "Francis, go and rebuild my house, which is threatening to collapse." Francis started working at San Damiano, reinforcing the walls, patching the roof, and fixing it all up. Other young men began to come help his with his work. Soon he had several followers, and they all took on the life of "Lady Poverty." They gave up everything and begged for their food. Francis wrote a Rule of Life for the group and after getting approval from Pope Innocent III, they became known as the Order of Friars Minor. Soon, a wealthy young woman named Claire and her friends desired to live the same life as the Friars, who were known as "Franciscans" and became known as the "Poor Claires." Both groups worked with the poor and sick and outcasts of society. Both groups lived holy lives of poverty.

St. Francis heard God's voice in the natural world which surrounded him, and he saw God's face in the elements and in all of creation. He saw the face of Jesus in the faces of the poor and sick. His understanding of the connectedness of all creation is evident in his calling everything either "brother" or "sister." An example of how St. Francis experienced God in nature is illustrated in a song he wrote, The Canticle of the Sun:

Most High, Almighty, Good Lord.
Yours be the praise, the glory, the honor and all blessing.
To You alone, Most High, are they due.
And no man is worthy to speak your Name.
Praise to You, my Lord, for all your creatures.
Above all, Brother Sun who brings us the day and lends us his light.
Lovely is he, radiant with great splendor, and speaks to us of You,
O Most High.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Moon, and the stars
which You have set in the heavens, clear, precious, and fair.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Brother Wind, for air and cloud,
for calm and all weather by which you support life in all your creatures.
Praise to You, my Lord, for Sister Water,
whop is so useful and humble, precious and pure.
Praise to You, my Lord, for our sister Mother Earth,
who sustains and directs us and brings forth varied fruits
and colored flowers and plants.
Praise and bless my Lord, thank Him and serve Him with great humility!


St. Francis also experienced God through the animals, and as we know, he was very fond of the animals he met. As a result, many churches celebrate his feast with a blessing of the animals. When I was at St. Francis’ in San José, we always had the blessing of the animals as part of our Patronal Festival. This was also the day that the Bishop would visit, and there were many times when I helped the bishop bless dogs, cats, mice, snakes, lizards, birds, and all manner of pets.
Another story which illustrates the love St. Francis had for creation is the story of St. Francis and the birds: One day St. Francis and some of the brothers were walking between the towns of Cannara and Bevagna. While they were walking, St. Francis saw some trees next to the road and there was a large group of many different birds, varieties that he had never seen in that area before, all standing about (think of what he would think of our birds here in Panamá!). There was another group of birds standing in the fields next to the trees. While St. Francis was looking at this strange sight, he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and he told his companions, "Wait here in the road, I am going to go over and preach to our sisters the birds." As soon as he went into the field the birds began to gather around him, and the birds up in the trees flew down and they all stood about him quietly, even when he walked among them. St. Francis looked at the birds gathered around him and said,

"My sisters the birds, you have so much from God and should always praise God for the gift of flight, for your beautiful colored feathers, for the food you get, for your gift of singing,
and for the fact that God has blessed you with great numbers, for your species was saved on the Ark with Noah, and for the element of Air which was set aside for you to travel in.
You don't plant or harvest and God feeds you. God gave you rivers and streams from which to drink, and mountains, hills, rocks and crags to hid in tall trees for your nests; and since you can't sew, God gave you and your chicks feathers for clothes. It's true that the Creator who made you loves you very much. So take care, sisters of mine, the birds, not to be ungrateful but be happy and always praise God."

When St. Francis finished his sermon, all the birds began to open their beaks, stretch their wings and necks and bow their heads reverently, and sing. With their songs and actions they were telling St. Francis that they liked what he said. When St. francis saw this, he was very happy and full of the Holy Spirit, and was amazed at such a wide variety of birds who showed that they loved each other. He praised God for this creation, called the birds to praise God, and blessed them with the sign of the cross. The birds all rose into the sky and flew off in the four directions, north, south, west, and east, to show St. Francis a great cross.


St. Francis died on October 3, 1226. He had passed on leadership of the Order of Franciscans seven years earlier. He was made a saint on July 16, 1228, by Pope Gregory IX. St. Francis was one who was able to surrender totally to God, he was one who was able to trust God fully; he trusted God to feed him, to provide shelter, and to keep him safe. He trusted God enough to listen for God's voice in the world around him. He was able to see God in the lives of the animals he loved, but also in the face of the poor leper at the side of the road. He was extremely humble, yet able to lead a great order which exists to this day. The life of St. Francis is proof that, if one is to be great, one must be the servant of others. May all of us look to the life of St. Francis and see God in the faces of the least among us.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

A Poem to St. Michael the Archangel

An ancient Celtic poem in praise of Michael the Archangel

Thou Michael the victorious,
I make my circuit under thy shield,
Thou Michael of the white steed,
And of the bright brilliant blades,
Conqueror of the dragon,
Be thou at my back,
Thou ranger of the heavens,
Thou warrior of the King of all,
O Michael the victorious,
My pride and my guide
O Michael the victorious,
The glory of mine eye.


I make my circuit
In the fellowship of my saint,
On the machair, on the meadow,
On the cold heathery hill;
Though I should travel oceans
And the hard globe of the world
No harm can e’er befall me
‘Neath the shelter of thy shield;
O Michael the victorious,
Jewel of my heart,
O Michael the victorious,
God’s shepherd thou art.

Be the sacred Three of Glory
Aye at peace with me,
With my horses, with my cattle,
With my woolly sheep in flocks.
With the crops growing in the field
Or ripening in the sheaf,
On the machiar, on the moor,
In cole, in heap, or stack,.
Every thing on high or low,
Every furnishing and flock,
Belong to the holy Triune of glory,
And to Michael the victorious

Feast of Michael and All Angels

Hey,everbuddy!It's Padre Mickey's annual Michaelmas post!
Today is the Feast of St. Michael the Archangel and all Angels, or Michaelmas.
The feast is popular again, probably due to the rise of angelology in New Age circles over the past twenty years or so. An entire industry has sprung up over for a while  around the subject of angels, producing music and books odd websites. Some people's interest and devotion to angels has replaced any interest and devotion to God, which is, of course, idolatrous, but this is not the first time in history that angel worship has been popular. It was also common during the first two centuries of Christianity, especially in Phrygia, Greece, and Palestine, and St. Paul mentions angel worship in his letter to the Christians in Colossus. The introductory lecture by the Rev. Dr. L. William Countryman in New Testament when I was at C.D.S.P. left an impression on my entire class. Professor Countryman shocked us all with the idea that the Epistle to Jude was about sex with angels! So, let’s talk about angels.
The English word 'angel' comes from the Greek word 'angelous' which means 'messenger.'
Angels are God's messengers, and that is the purpose they serve throughout most of the Old Testament. However, Zoroastrian influence during the time of the Babylonian exile changed the concept of angels from messengers of God to powerful supernatural beings who were either on the side of God or on the side of Satan; it introduced a dualistic element to the understanding of angels. By the year 160 B.C., the Essenes, who lived in the desert of Qumran, had created an entire Host or Army of angels who served God, wile the Demons, or Angels of Darkness served Satan. With this idea of an angelic army came the idea of different choirs of angels, different divisions who served different purposes. These groups originally were divided as Archangels, Cherubim, Seraphim, Watchers, and Angels. By the sixth century of the Christian Era, the mystical theologian Psuedo-Dionysius developed an hierarchy of "Heavenly Beings" which he received from his “sacred-initiator.” According to Psuedo-Dionysius, there are three three-fold hierarchies of Heavenly Beings: the first hierarchy, which are the beings which surround God the Father, are the "Holy Thrones and Orders said to possess many eyes and wings, also called Seraphim and Cherubim." The word "Seraphim" means "Fire-makers" in Hebrew, and Psuedo-Dionysius says that this means they are "Carriers of Warmth." The word "Cherubim" means "Out-pourers of Wisdom" in Hebrew, and Psuedo-Dionysius writes that the Seraphim and Cherubim are most like God in these ways. The second hierarchy consists of Authorities, Dominions, and Powers. This group works between the first hierarchy and the third hierarchy. The third and final hierarchy, according to Psuedo-Dionysius, consists of Principalities, Archangels, and Angels, with only Archangels and Angles dealing with human beings.

Human interaction with angels is described throughout the Old Testament, beginning with a Cherub with a flaming sword guarding the gate to Paradise. Abraham's angel visitations, and Jacob's vision of angels ascending and descending from a ladder between heaven and earth is another example. Moses dealt with angels such as Michael in the Wilderness, and the Day of Atonement liturgy described in the book of Leviticus describes the action of the High Priest placing the sins of the community on a goat and releasing the goat to Azazel, a fallen angel of the desert. By the time of the Book of Daniel and the prophet Isaiah's vision of heaven, angels were no longer simply God's messengers, they became supernatural beings with much power, who praised God in front of the throne or fought in God's army. Angels were also terrifying creatures; their presence was so frightening  that the first words they usually say to humans are "Fear not!" This also may be because they tend to simply appear out of nowhere; I don’t know of any stories where one was watching angels wing their way towards them with a message; they just appear and say “Fear not!” Artists over the centuries, especially during the Renaissance, tended to portray angels as androgynous blonds with wings, and they tend to portray Cherubim as fat little baby angels. But Cherubim are not fat baby angels, they are terrifying creatures; they are described as having the head of a man, the body of a lion, and wings! And Seraphim are huge, fiery, snake-like creatures, not blond guys with wings. Isaiah's description of heaven tells of Seraphim flying above God's throne, and the Seraphim are described as having six wings: two to cover their face, two to cover their feet, (which is a euphemism for genitals), and two with which to fly. They fly above God's throne chanting "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts." A Seraph picked up a hot coal from the altar of incense and put it on Isaiah's lips to purify them. In the New Testament, the Archangel Gabriel gave Mary  the message that she would become Theotokos, the God bearer. An angel also brought a message to Zechariah and silenced him. In fact, angels tend to appear throughout Luke's gospel  and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles. Angels appear in Mark's gospel, but only to minister to Jesus while he iwas in the wilderness, after his encounter with Satan, and they appear in Matthew's gospel in dreams to warn of trouble to the baby Jesus.

As mentioned earlier, during the first and second centuries and during the time of Jesus, angels were very popular, as popular as they are in our day, and there were those who worshipped them and wanted to enlist them in giving them power over others. these beliefs were poplar among some Gnostic groups, and they developed amazing cosmologies in which angels were featured. The Essenes'  teachings also added to these ideas. Remember the fourth verse of Genesis, Chapter 6, about the Nephilim, (which means 'fallen ones' in Hebrew) who were the children of human women and angel fathers and were "the giants and heroes of old?" Well, some Gnostic groups took that passage and decided that it meant that they could attain certain mystic knowledge through sexual relations with angels! St. Paul seems to think that angels are attracted to a woman's long hair, and suggested that they keep their heads covered in church. But St. Paul also believed that humans were more important to God than were the angels and he said that humans would judge angels. Some people believe that Satan is a Fallen Angel,  and they tell the story of Lucifer, the Morning Star, trying to put his throne higher than God's and starting a war in heaven. Have you read that story in the Bible? No, you haven't because it is not in the Bible.
When John Milton wrote the book Paradise Lost, he used some verses from Isaiah chapter 14:

How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, Son of Dawn! How you are cut
down to the ground, you who laid the nations low! You said in your heart,
"I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God . . .
I will make myself like the Most High.

Bu these verses are about a Babylonian king who was called the Day Star. It is interesting how something written by Milton became theological truth to many. When we read the book of Job, Satan is a part of God's Court,so perhaps he is some kind of angel.

Today's feast is named after St. Michael the Archangel. Michael is the head of the Heavenly Host, the Five-star General of God's Angelic Army. Michael is also the protector of Israel, Protector of the Chosen People. Psuedo-Dionysius claimed that every nation is actually directed and protected by one of the archangels, and that Michael is the leader of the Jewish nation; he did not name the other Archangels and their respective nations. According to tradition, Michael is supposed to protect Christians from the devil at the time of death. This probably comes from the mention of Michael arguing with Satan for the soul of Moses, which is mentioned in the Epistle of Jude and comes from the Book of the Secrets of Enoch, an apocalyptic book written in 160 B.C. There was a cult which venerated Michael the Archangel in Phrygia (a regular hot-bed of heresey!), and they believed he had the power to heal, so many hot springs in Greece and Turkey are dedicated to him. Michael's place in the heavenly court is next to the altar of incense, and when incense is blessed for use in our liturgy, the priest usually says the following prayer:

By the intercession of Blessed Michael the Archangel, who stands 
at the right hand of the altar of incense, and of all the Saints, may 
the Lord bless this incense, and accept it as a pure oblation, through
Jesus Christ our Lord.

The name Mikael, or Michael in English, means "who is like God?" in Hebrew, and this has led to some weird ideas about Michael the Archangel. Charles Taze Russel, the man who started the Jehovah's Witnesses taught that Jesus was actual Michael come to earth, and there are New Agers who "channel" Michael. These beliefs and teachings, as well as much of the angelology going on nowadays is actually idolatrous. Angels are God's messengers, and they are God's servants. Their only purpose, the only reason they were created, is to do God's will. They have no say in the matter, and they just do what they are told. Humans, however, are created in God's image, and we have been given free will, and that puts us in a different place than the angels. When you die, you won't get some wings and a harp and sit on a cloud as a new angel, no matter what image popular movies leave you. Angels probably don't spend their time fighting demons and keeping you out of trouble. Angels are God's messengers and they deliver God's messages. We are not to worship angels, we are not to try to control angels, and we are not to try to 'channel' angels or anything else. Since we have free will, it’s best if we choose to do God's will, it’s best if we choose to help bring about God's reign, it’s best if we choose to love one another as Christ loves us, and it’s best if we choose to serve God. We don't need to worry about Guardian Angels, or whether angels are real or not; what we need to worry about is how we treat each other, about how we treat those who are the least among us. We need to worry about helping others learn of the Good News of forgiveness of sins and that God loves everyone  and want relationship with everyone. We need to tend to the sick, to pray for each other, and to love each other.  Then we can join with the angels in heaven and sing God's praises, because we will be doing God's will, just as the angels do.

Everlasting God, you have ordained and constituted in a wonderful order the ministries of angels and mortals: Mercifully grant that, as your holy angels always serve and worship you in heaven, so by your appointment they may help and defend us here on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (The Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary)

¡Feliz Día de Madres a todos mis amigas en Costa Rica!
I don't believe in a three-tiered universe, and I don't believe in the literal interpretations of the Ascension. I don't believe in the Assumption; I prefer the term "the dormition." However, I have no problem at all with honoring the Theotokus (my Nestorian tendencies aside). Instead of writing a hagiography today, I'll share some poems and paintings I've found in the intertubes.

O God, you have taken to yourself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of your incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of your eternal kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


The Dormition of the Theotokus

Mary's Assumption
There was silence in heaven, as if for half an hour-

Isaiah's coals of wonder sealed the lips

Of Seraph, Principality and Power,

Of all the nine angelic fellowships.

The archangels, those sheer intelligences,

Were silent, with their eyes on heaven's door.

So must our fancy dower them with senses, 

Make them incarnate in a metaphor.

There was silence in heaven as Mary entered in, 

For even Gabriel had not foreseen

The glory of a soul immune from sin

Throned in the body of the angels' Queen.

Blessed be God and Mary in whose womb

Was woven God's incredible disguise. 

She gave Our Lord His Body.
In the tomb 
He gave her hers again and bade her rise.

Bright from death's slumber she arose, the flush 

Of a chaste joy illumining her cheeks;

Among the motherless in heaven there was a hush

To hear the way a mother laughs and speaks.

Eye had not seen, nor ear of angel heard, 

Nor heart conceived - until Our Lady's death - 

What God for those that love Him had prepared

When heaven's synonym was Nazareth!

Her beauty opened slowly like a flower, 

Beauty to them eternally bequeathed.

There was silence in heaven; as if for half an hour

No angel breathed.
Alfred Barrett (1906-1985) 
Lentfoehr, Therese, editor. I Sing of a Maiden. New York: Macmillan Company, 1947.


Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) The Assumption of the Virgin

Memories of the Assumption
They bore her in a reverent group

To a holy place,

Left her body in the earth -

Her body, "full of grace".

But Thomas, tardy, slow of foot,

Absent when she died, 

Spent with sorrow, craved to see 

Her of the Crucified.

There was a swift intake of breath,

A hurried silent prayer:

Startled they opened the new-made tomb

To find but lilies there.
Sr. M. Angeline 
Robert, Cyril. Our Lady's Praise in Poetry. Poughkeepsie, NY: Marist Press, 1944.


Bartolome Murillo (1618-1682). Assumption of the Virgin.

The Assumption  

No painter ever caught the magic other going--

This was a matter of an inward growing,

Simple and imperceptible as thought.

It was no pageant wrought

Of sounding splendor, welter of gold bars

Of molten day, mad stars,

Flurry of quick angels' winging,

Bursts of their laughter ringing
In wild bliss.

The simple fact is this:

Love conquered at long last.

Her eager soul fled fast

With a great gladness like a song

Unto to her Spouse above,

And her pure flesh would not be parted long

For sheer love.
by Joachim Smet O.Carm


Raffaello. The Coronation of the Virgin

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