Wednesday, December 06, 2017

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.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito's Annual Thanksgiving Day Special!

It is the Holiday Season! While the Patriotic Holidays start the season in Panamá, we are now in los Estados Unidos, where the season starts with Thanksgiving, so we're following the local traditions. And what goes with the Holiday Season, besides lots of good food and drink and stuff? That's right: re-runs Holiday Season Classics! And here at Padre Mickey's Dance Party we have our Holiday Season Classics, just like your favorite television station, the only difference being ours aren't thirty to forty years old, and none of the characters appear as balloons in the Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. So just sit back and enjoy It's A Red Mr. Peanut Bank And Gallito Mescalito Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown!And, since you haven't seen our crew in ages, I'm sure you're gonna enjoy it!

Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, Gallito Mescalito, it's that time of year again!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek! ¿Shriek? ¡Shriek!
Red Mr. Peanut BankYes, I can understand that, the smell of roasting turkey makes you nervous, but it's only once or twice a year.
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, I don't like it that much either; all that cooking really heats up the house, and with Summer almost here it's hot enough around here!


Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Hi boys! Up to no good, I suppose!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Good evening, Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love. You look marvelous, as always!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Thank you, boys; you're so sweet! Well, it's that time of year, isn't it? The days are shorter, the nights longer, the smell of burning leaves in the air, and in some places it's snowing like all get out!
Gallito Mescalito ¿Shriek?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Yes, I agree with my loving partner; what on EARTH are you talking about?
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Well, not HERE, of course, but back in the ol' U.S.A. I kinda miss all that.
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank He's right again; when we lived in the U.S. we lived in the S.F. Bay Area, where it rarely snows! But I guess the other stuff did happen. But you're from Egypt originally; I doubt you had snowy winters there!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love I just miss seasons! All we have here is "rainy season" and "not-quite-as-rainy season" or verano. I miss the cold.


Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Hey dere, fellas! An' a very good evenin' ta you, Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Hello, Mr. Squeaky Cat!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Hello, Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy!
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy 'sup wit eveybuddy?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank We're discussing the season and the holidays.
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Yeah! I luvs dis tima yeah! In fact, we gots a nudder nashunal holiday on Sunday, which means we gits Mundy off! Independence from Spain Day! ¡Viva Panamá! ¡Viva Libertad!
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Well, I'm thinking of a different holiday.


Mighty Moose of Vermont, Fuzzy Southern Mountain Moose, and ¡El Penguino! Hello everybody!
The others Hello, Mighty Moose of Vermont, Fuzzy Southern Mountain Moose, and ¡El Penguino!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Fuzzy Southern Mountain Moose, you don't look very happy? What's wrong?
Fuzzy Southern Mountain Moose Wayul, Ahm jus' feelin' a bit homesick.
¡El Penguino! She's worried about Thanksgiving. I told her it's the only estadoünidense holiday Padre and the Lovely Mona still celebrate, but she's worried it won't happen.
Mighty Moose of Vermont Come on, ¡El Penguino! You were just as worried last year. We told her it would happen but she's still worried.
Fuzzy Southern Mountain Moose Wayul, Ah've nevah been away foh such impohtant holidaze befoh.
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Why is dis holiday so importint' ta you guys? 'Sup wid dis?


Diablito Sucio y Wooden Kuna Doll Si. ¿Es este fiesta más importante qué la Día de Independencia de España? ¿Por qué?
Mr. Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Yeah, I'm wunderin' 'bout dis, too. Is dis anuver one of yer Gringo "weah betteah dan you" tings?
Gallito Mescalito ¡Shriek!
Los Juegetes de los estados unidos No! It's just different!!!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank No, no, no! It's not more important than Panamanian holidays; it's just different. It is an important holiday to the Lovely Mona and Padre and their extended family and the estadoünidense toys and knick-knacks because they like the idea of taking one specific day to thank God for their many blessings, and because it is an important part of the mythology of the U.S.A., not that Padre and the Lovely Mona buy the myth (although they both have family members who are participants in the story!).
Las Jugetes Panamañas What is the myth? Tell us, TELL US!!!


Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, it all started with the Puritans Pilgrims and their search for a land in which they could oppress others find religious freedom. . .

Announcer We'll return to It's A Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalto Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown! right after this Important Message.


Before the break which was guaranteed to offend EVERYONE!, Red Mr. Peanut Bank promised to tell Padre Mickey's twisted, totally warped enlightened version of the Myth of the First Thanksgiving. As we would never want a toy bank to go back on Padre's its word, we now present Padre Mickey's Dance Party's Friday Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito Blogging Players in The First Thanksgiving

Narrator Once upon a time, several centuries ago, there was a group living in England, who, having been driven insane by the more fringe elements of the Protestant Reformation, decided that everyone in England must believe as did they, be as pure as were they, and be just as grumpy. They were known as Puritans The majority of Believers in England disagreed, and made life even more miserable for these folks, until they finally left England for the Netherlands, where, soon tiring of a diet of chocolate, edam, and tulips, they made their way to The New World to make life miserable for Padre Mickey's relatives. Europe's favorite population decimator, small pox, had already cleared the way for the Pilgrims (as they were now called) so that there was plenty of room! Landing in an area they named Plymouth, after the place from which they had been evicted, their leader gave thanks to God. . .
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Now thank we all our God, with hearts and hands and voices, that we have arrived safely in this heathen, yet almost empty land, where we are free to worship God in our own manner, and may make sure that everyone else worships God in our own manner, too!
Other Pilgrims Amen!


Narrator The Pilgrims soon met the indigenous inhabitants of the land. . .
Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Hey dere, peoples wut don' look nuffin' like us! Watcha up to?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank We are the Pilgrims, and we have come to this nearly empty land to live in peace and worship our God in our own manner. We are trying to plant our crops. And what is your name, almost naked guy? And why are you wearing that feather?
Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy My name is Tisquantum, but you kin' call me Squanto. An' I weahs a feddah cuz it looks much coolah dan dat ting on toppa yer head! Uhm, ya know, dem seeds won't grow in dis climate.


Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love And how did you learn our tongue? Hast the Holy Spirit descended upon you to give you this gift? I doubt it, you being such a heathen savage!
Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy No, no Espíritu Santo. Sum sumbich white guy captured me and my friends Manida, Skidwarres, Nahanada and Assacumet a while back n' dragged us kickin' an screamin' in a big nasty boat to your pitiful island and taught us yer funny langige. But, like I sed, dem seeds won't grow in dis climate. . .
Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love Sir, these are the seeds our God commanded us to bring and plant!
Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Well, dat's too bad 'cuz dey ain't gunna woik heah. Hey! Massasoit! Go grab some maize and some fish. Let's show dese rubes howta do it, or dey gonna starve and be botherin' us all wintah for food!


Narrator And so Squanto and Massasoit and their people taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn and squash and pole beans and which nuts were safe to eat. . .
Mighty Moose of Vermont See, you dig a little hole,put a dead fishy in it, place a kernel of maize on top of the dead fishy, then cover it all up; make a little hill. Then move over about eight inches and do it again.
¡El Penguino! 'sup with the dead fishy?
Mighty Moose of Vermont It fertilizes the maize so you get a nice, big, healthy plant. And it's not as nasty as that manure your people use!
¡El Penguino! Heh! You savage! Poop is great!
Mighty Moose of Vermont Yeah. Sure. So, why aren't you wearing a hat with a buckle on it?
¡El Penguino! I AM wearing one. It's just so tiny you can't see it with your heathen eyes.
Mighty Moose of Vermont Oh-kay. So, dig another hole, take a dead fishy. . .


Narrator Eventually, the song of Harvest Home was raised, all was safely gathered in, ere the winter storms began, and the Pilgrims decided to thank the Lord of the Harvest with a feast. . .
Fuzzy Southern Mountain Moose An weyul invaht Squanto an' hiyus friens', too, as theyah wuah SUCH a biyguh haylp!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank That's a great idea. What will be the main course? We don't have any cattle for roast beef, and they eat venison all the time.
Gallito Mescalito Shrie--cough, cough--er, gobble gobble!
Fuzzy Southern Mountain Moose Hmm, thayut maht be reyul good!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Er, how about pumpkin soup in the pumpkin? That could be Very Elegant!

Announcer: We interrupt this program for this important Breaking News!


Announcer And now, we return to It's A Red Mr. Peanut Bank and Gallito Mescalito Thanksgiving, Charlie Brown! already in progress. . .
¡El Toro! Yoohoo! Mr. Pavo!
Crocagator Heh Heh Heh Thanksgiving dinner.
Gallito Mescalito Gobble gobb--¡¡¡SSSSHHHHHRRRRRRIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEKKKKKK!!!



Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, we're gathered together to ask the Lord's blessing, you at your table and we at ours, as we really can't be mixing with the likes of you. You know, He, the Lord, hastens and chastens, His will to make known!
Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Really! Well, ya know, we gots a little diff'rint teolugie an' understandin' of da Great Spirit! Ya see, WE believes dat. . .
Red Mr. Peanut Bank No one wants to hear your heathen ideas! We came here to worship God in OUR OWN MANNER, and we expect everyone else to worship God in our own manner, too! Now eat your pumpkin soup!


Narrator' And everyone gave thanks to God, with heart and hands and voices, and ate and had a wonderful time.
Chompy's Chewed-up Squeaky Kitty Toy Well, dat was great! burp See ya next yeah!
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Don't count on it!



Miss Egyptian Hippo of Love What hath the Lord in store next for the Pilgrims in His Divine Plan?
Red Mr. Peanut Bank Well, we survived our first year and survived dinner with the Heathen Savages. Now it's time to get to work! Time to start taking their land and pushing their sorry heathen bottoms West until they can go West no further!



Gallito Mescalito Gobble Gobble!, er, ¡¡Shrrriiieeekk!!

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Feast of Cecilia, Martyr

Today is the feast of St. Cecilia, a young woman who was martyred in Rome around the year 230. She is the patron saint of musicians because, according to the Acts of Cecilia, she heard heavenly music on her way to her wedding. She was one of the most venerated martyrs of the Ancient Church and her feast has been celebrated in the Roman Church since the fourth century. The Acts of Cecilia was written in the fifth century, and its text was the basis for the version in the Golden Legend, a collection of the lives of saints written in the thirteenth century. What follows is my retelling of the story of Cecilia according to the version of the tale in the Golden Legend.

St. Cecilia was born of noble Roman lineage. Her parents were Christians and Cecilia was baptized as a baby. She “fostered and nourished the faith of Christ from the time she lay in her cradle,” she kept the gospel in her heart and said prayers day and night. At an early age she dedicated herself to remain a virgin. Her parents arranged a marriage with a young man named Valerian even though he was not a Christian. When the day of her wedding came, she heard heavenly music and sang in her soul, “O Lord, I pray that my heart and body may remain pure so that I may not be confused or perplexed.” That night, when she and Valerian retired to the Wedding Chamber, she said, “My sweet, beloved husband. I have a secret to tell you. Promise that you will tell no one what I am about to share with you.” Valerian was curious and promised to tell no one. Cecilia said, “I have an angel that loves me and protects my body whether I am asleep or awake. I have dedicated myself to be a virgin for the glory of God, and I am afraid that if you try to take my virginity the angel will kill you. But if you promise to love me only in a holy and pure manner, he will love you as I love you and will protect you, too.” Well, as one might expect, this wasn’t exactly what Valerian wanted to hear on his wedding night, and he said, “If you want me to believe this, I will have to see this angel. And if it turns out that there is no angel and that you love someone else, I swear that I will kill both you and your lover with my own sword!” Cecilia said, “If you believe and are baptized, you will see the angel.” She then told Valerian to to the Via Appia, three miles outside of Rome. There he would see the Bishop of Rome, Pope Urban, working with the poor and the sick. Valerian was to tell the pope what Cecilia said and listen to the pope, and if he believed what Pope Urban said, be baptized. Valerian followed instructions, and Pope Urban was happy to talk with him and baptize him. Pope Urban said, "One God, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, above all, and in us all, everywhere. Do you believe this?” Valerian responded, “There is nothing truer under heaven!” and was baptized. Then he returned to Cecilia and the Wedding Chamber. When he entered the Wedding Chamber he saw Cecilia talking with an angel. The angel had two crowns of roses and lilies. He gave one to Cecilia and one to Valerian and said, “Keep these crowns with a pure and undefiled body for I have brought them from Paradise and they will never fade or lose their scent or wither. They can only be seen by those who live chaste and pure lives. And because you listened and followed Cecilia’s wise counsel, what ever you wish shall be granted to you, Valerian.” Valerian told the angel, “There is no one in this world more dear to me than my brother, and I want him to know the truth of the gospel, too.” The angel replied, “Your petition pleases our Lord, and you both will come to him by the palm of martyrdom.” A few days later, Tyburtius, Valerian’s brother, came to visit the newlyweds. He was amazed because he smelled roses and lilies but didn’t see any in the room. Valerian told him that he and Cecilia had crowns of flowers which he couldn’t see, but if he believed he would see them, and he then preached the gospel to his brother. Tyburtius was converted that day and baptized by Pope Urban. After that he saw angels everyday and was constantly blessed by God.
Almachius, provost of Rome, was persecuting Christians and many were being executed for refusing to offer incense to the image of Jupiter. Valerian and Tyburtius were burying the martyrs and giving their goods to the poor. Word of their activities spread throughout the city, and Almachius had them called before him and ordered them to sacrifice to the image of Jupiter. They refused and were condemned to be beheaded. They were taken four miles outside of the city and beheaded, and Cecilia took their bodies and buried them. The man who arrested them, Maximus, was converted by their preaching. He went home and preached to his household and friends, and they, too were converted. Cecilia came to his house with priests and all were baptized. When Almachius heard that Maximus had converted and was baptized, he had Maximus beaten with whips with lead tips until he died. Cecilia took Maximus’ body and buried it with Valerian and Tyburtius. When Almachius heard of Cecilia’s activities, he had her arrested, too. She was brought to court, where she preached to the judges and lawyers. She converted them all to the faith, and they were crying to think that such a beautiful young woman should be condemned to death. She said to them, “Oh you good young men, I will not lose my youth, but change it into something more valuable, like changing clay into gold or a dirty place into a beautiful, clean palace. God will reward a hundred fold for one small gift of life. Do you believe what I have said?” They all answered, “We believe Christ to be very God and you are his servant.” Then Pope Urban was called and four hundred people were baptized that day! Almachius had Cecilia brought before him and questioned her, but she showed him no respect at all. He said, “Do you realize what power I have?” She replied, “Your power is nothing to fear, it is like a bladder full of wind which disappears when pricked with a needle and never meant anything to anyone.” He said, “I have the power to have you executed. Now sacrifice to Jupiter.” She refused, of course, and was condemned to death. Cecilia was taken home and condemned to be suffocated in her bath; the heat was turned up to its highest level, and should have suffocated her, but when the soldiers came in hoping to find her lifeless body, the room was cool and comfortable and she was quite alive. Almachius then ordered that she be beheaded in her bathroom. The executioner struck her neck three times with his sword but was unable to behead her. He left her there in her own blood, half alive and half dead, for three days. She continued to preach and made arrangements that all her goods go to the poor. She sent many people to Pope Urban to be baptized, saying, “ I asked God to let me live three more days so that I could commend these souls to you and ask that my house be used as a church.” Then she died and Pope Urban and the deacons took her body and buried her among the bishops and consecrated her house to be used as a church.

Sometimes it is difficult to prove that some of the martyrs of the Early Church actually existed, they are often simply a name on a martyrology, or list of martyrs. Cecilia Valerian, and Tyburtius’ names all appear in the Martyrologium Hieronymianum of Rome. It appears that her house actually was made into a church; records show that the building known as the church of St. Cecilia belonged to Gens Caecilia (Cecilia’s Family) and was donated to the church in Rome. So although the story from The Golden Legend contains elements which are difficult to believe, especially that a heterosexual man would agree to a marriage like that of Cecilia and Valerian, and while the angel seems more like a genie than a divine messenger, there is a good chance that there really was a Cecilia, Valerian, and Tyburtius. St. Cecilia was a young woman totally dedicated to Christ and the Church. The threat of death did not stop her from doing the work of the gospel, and even with her dying breath she gave all she had to the Lord. That is why she was held in such high esteem by Christians from the fifth century through the Middle Ages and that is why we remember her and her witness today.

Lord of mercy, be close to those who call upon you, with Saint Cecilia to help us hear and answer our prayers. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Día de Independencia

Today we celebrate independence from Colombia. La República de Panamá tiene 108 años hoy.


The Panamanian National Anthem:

Alcanzamos por fin la victoria en el campo feliz de la unión;
con ardientes fulgores de gloria se ilumina la nueva nacion.

Es preciso cubrir con un velo del pasado el calvario y la cruz ;
y que adorne el azul de tu cielo de concordia la esplendida luz.

El progreso acaricia tus lares al compás de sublime canción ;
ves rugir a tus pies ambos mares que dan rumbo a tu noble misión.

Alcanzamos por fin la victoria en el campo feliz de la unión;
con ardientes fulgores de gloria se ilumina la nueva nacion.

En tu suelo cubierto de flores, a los besos del tibio terral,
terminaron guerreros fragores; solo reina el amor fraternal.

Adelante la pica y la pala, al trabajo sin mas dilación ;
y seremos asi prez y gala, de este mundo feraz de Colón.

Nice, eh? Nothing about "bombs bursting in air" or descriptions of the flag, just a song about hope for the nation.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Feast of All the Faithful Departed


Día de los Difuntos

This is my bog-standard All Souls' Day sermon

Today we are celebrating All Souls Day the day in which we commemorate those who have passed on. It is really an extension of All Saints Day which we celebrated yesterday. It's an extension of All Saints Day because all Christians are considered saints but some people consider some saint to be more holy than others, and they had trouble with the idea of commemorating holy martyrs such as Perpetua and Felicitas on the same day as they remembered their Uncle Fred, so now we have All Souls Day as the day to commemorate "lesser" saints like Uncle Fred. It is important to remember the saints like our Aunts and Uncles just as much as it is to remember James of Jerusalem, Polycarp of Smyrna, Thecla and Blandina, because the saints we know and have seen everyday can be even better examples for us of how God wants us to live. The saints who are members of our families and neighborhoods can be the examples which brought us to the point where we decided to follow Christ and God's way instead of our own way. We sang "I Sing A Song Of The Saints Of God" because of that third verse:
They lived not only in ages past,
There are hundreds of thousands still,
The world is bright with the joyous saints
Who love to do Jesus' will.
You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea,
In church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea,
For the saints of God are just folk like me,
And I mean to be one too!


I can think of several saints, departed and living, who influenced me. My grandfather was a minister in the Assemblies of God church and he was a missionary in China and the Philippine Islands. He and his family were captured by the Japanese during WWII and although he was tortured he never lost his faith. He was well educated, which was unusual for pastors in his church, and his example was a great model for me. I studied both Hebrew and Greek in seminary because he had done so (I was terrible in Hebrew). When I was an acolyte at Sukiran Chapel in Okinawa and was first introduced to the Episcopal Church, Chaplain Bennett was a great influence on me. He showed me that one could approach God and religion from an intellectual standpoint and he gave me a love for beautiful liturgy. My mentor, the Rev. Eckford deKay, former Rector of St. Francis' Church in San José, California, took me under his wing when I began to consider ordination, and he told me to join the Vestry and become a delegate to Diocesan Convention. He said that if I still wanted to be a priest after Vestry and Convention he'd take me to see the bishop, and as a result of his advice I was much less naïve and idealistic about Church politics than my classmates in seminary. All my professors in seminary were great influences on me, but the Rev. Dr. Jon Kater was quite instrumental in my coming to Panamá, and it was Bishop Hayes who convinced me that this was where I should be. My friend Elizabeth Leigh helped me understand the importance of the environment and our duty to be good stewards of this earth, and Janet Levi taught me patience and the importance of being true to one's art. So that's two living saints and five who have joined the Great Cloud of Witnesses who have influenced me and brought me to where I am now.

I'll bet everyone in this room can name several people, family members and friends and teachers and even clergy, who have influenced them and encouraged them in their spiritual journey, and all these people are saints, because a saint is someone whose life is an example and model. We don't pray to the saints; we know that they were human beings just like us, but they are people who are examples of what is possible when we let God control our lives. Saints are not without sin; many saints, both great and lesser, lived less than perfect lives at one time, but all of them came to the point where they were able to surrender themselves to God's will and live the life that God wanted of them, and that is why their lives were beacons to us all. They were able to be vulnerable enough so that God could work through them; they were able to be transparent enough so that God's light would shine through them, and that we would be attracted to their examples. And just as these people were examples to us, we, everyone in this room, is an example to someone else! Whether you like it or not, as a Christian, you, too, are a saint, and the way you are living your life is an example to someone. Those moments when you are vulnerable enough to let God work through you, those moments when you are transparent enough to let God shine through you, you become an example of the Christian life to someone else.

You are a Christian, you are a saint, those moments when you can surrender yourself to God's will are the moments when you are a beacon to those who are lost. Those who have passed on, those who have departed this world, have been great influences on our lives, and it is important to remember them. I grew up on Okinawa, and the local religion there is much like the Shinto religion of Japan. In Japan, China, and Okinawa, the Cult of the Ancestors is very important. Some believe that one's ancestors keep looking out for those in this world, and that it is important to honor one's ancestors. One way the ancestors are honored is by remembering them, and most homes in Okinawa have a family altar, and on that altar is a lacquerware plaque with the names of all the departed family members, going all the way back to the first member of the family. On the festival of Obon, it is believed that the ancestors return to this world to visit, and the names of all the ancestors are read as a means of remembering them. We will be doing something similar in a few minutes, when I read the necrology, or list of the Faithful Departed. And when you hear the name of a family member read aloud, you will remember them, and they will come alive again in your memory, if only for a few seconds. This is one type of immortality.

So, I am going to read the names of the Faithful Departed, a list of over 700 names. We've just gone though a tough month, losing five members in just two weeks, and their names are included on this list. While the names are being read, I ask you to sit quietly in contemplation, in reflection. Think of those who have gone on before. Think of those whose names you recognize, and think of how thy influenced your life. Think about those everyday saints who helped bring you to where you are now, and I want you to think of how wonderful it will be on the Last Day when we are all reunited and we join them around the Banquet Table at the Wedding Feast of the Lamb.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Feast of All Saints

All Saints Day is the day on which we remember the martyrs, those who died for their faith, those who refused to sacrifice to the emperor and were thrown to the beasts and gladiators in the arena. Others were tied to stakes and burned while others died deaths too terrible to mention here in God's house. In the earliest days of the Church, martyrs were remembered on the day of their martyrdom; the faithful would gather at the grave of the martyr and would pray and sing hymns. But by the time of the final persecutions towards the end of the fourth century, there were too many martyrs to commemorate on the day of their deaths plus many that had died and whose names had not been recorded. The Christians in Rome were remembering the martyrs, known and unknown, on a special day by the year 373. All Saints Day was celebrated on May 13 for many centuries, but Pope Greogory III ded icated a new church on November 1 and declared that day All Saints Day. In the year 836 Pope Gregory IV declared a universal observance of All Saints on that day and that has been the date ever since.

We remember the martyrs because their example of bravery and standing for their faith helped the church to grow and also helped defeat those who persecuted the Church. The very first Christian martyr was the Deacon Stephen. James of Jerusalem, the brother of Jesus, was martyred by an angry mob. Later persecutions were committed by the Roman authorities and they were much more cruel than the stonings by the Jews. When we read the accounts of the martyrdoms of Perpetua and Felicitatus, of the martyrs of Lyon, of Bishop Polycarp, and the hundreds of martyrs in the “History of the Church” by Bishop Eusebius, we learn that their brave example changed the opinion of people against the persecutors and in favor of the Christians. When the people of the Roman empire saw the martyrs face death willingly and refusing to give in to their torturers, they began to wonder what gave them such courage and many people were converted to Christ. Even though the martyrs were brave, that was not the case for all Christians. Imagine how frightened you would be if you knew that because you are a member of San Cristóbal, you could be arrested and torn apart by lions and bears in an arena where everyone in Parque Lefevre and Rio Abajo would watch you die. Some people are brave, but many of us are not always so full of courage! The Apostle John discussed this in his vision of the Final Days. John had been exiled to Patmos, a small island, because he had been preaching in Edessa. John wanted to warn Christians of the persecution to come and he wanted to help them face it bravely. He warned the Christians that fierce persecutions would take place, but if they remained faithful, they would be rewarded with eternal life in the City of Light, the City of God. They would all stand before the throne of the Lamb where they would serve him day and night within his temple. The image of the Temple was important because the book of the Apocalypse was probably written after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. To serve God in the Temple was an image which gave people hope. John saw 144,000 people from every tribe of Israel standing before the throne, but then he saw “a great multitude that no man could number, from every nation and tribe and people and tongue, standing before the throne, clothed in white robes with palm branches in their hands, crying out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!” John was told that these people were the ones who had come through the great tribulation. They had washed their robes white in the blood of the Lamb. As their reward they serve God in the Temple, but also, they have been rewarded because “the One who sits upon the throne will shelter them with his presence. They shall hunger no more, nor thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water; and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” They were also promised that their deaths would be avenged by God. This vision gave people hope, it reminded them that God loved them and that they would not suffer in vain or die in vain. Because they knew God loved them and that they would have every tear wiped away, they were able to face their trials with courage and this courage inspired others to turn to Christ and receive eternal life. John was fortunate enough to leave Patmos, and he returned to Edessa and later died an old man, in Ephesus.

Most of us are very fortunate; Christianity is not illegal where we live and we probably won't have to face persecution. We probably won't be threatened with death for gathering at our churches every Sunday to share the bread and wine, but people are being martyred for the faith in parts of Africa and in Pakistan and in Iraq. Christians have been killed in the past fifty years in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and even Panama by governments hostile to their dedication to the teachings of Jesus. We need to continue to pray for the Christians around the world who are living under persecution.

The lectionary designates a reading of the Beatitudes on All Saints Day, either the version from Matthew’s or Luke’s gospels. The Beatitudes bestow a blessing for who one is or for what one does. Many of us have been poor at some time in our lives. Jesus said that the poor or poor in spirit have the kingdom of heaven. We a have mourned at some time, and there are people mourning right now, but you are blessed because you shall be comforted. You who are meek are blessed and will inherit the earth. You who hunger and thirst for righteousness, those of you who love God with your whole mind, you are blessed and will be satisfied. You who are merciful are blessed for you shall obtain mercy. You who are pure in heart are blessed and shall see God. Those of you who are peacemakers, who work to end strife at home, at work, in your community and in the world are blessed and will be called the children of God. There are special blessings for the martyrs, for the persecuted. You who are persecuted for righteousness sake, you will have the kingdom of heaven, just as will the poor. And all of us are blessed when people revile us and persecute us and utter all kinds of evil against us falsely on account of Christ. Those who are martyrs, those who are persecuted, rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven. All of us here are either poor, mourning, meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful, or peacemakers. Some of you may fall under several blessings, and some may even be suffering persecution. Know that you are blessed, that you are loved by God. Know that your reward is great in heaven. Know that you are saints, and that, one day, you, too, will stand before the throne of the Lamb and will shout with the other heroes of the faith, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Feast of James of Jerusalem, Martyr and Brother of our Lord


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.

I See You!

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