"The Preachers chiefly shall take heed that they teach nothing in their preaching, which they would have the people religiously to observe and believe, but that which is agreeable to the Doctrine of the Old Testament and the New, and that which the Catholick Fathers and Ancient Bishops have gathered out of that Doctrine." A proposed canon of Elizabeth I, 1571

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Location: Bedford, Texas, United States

I am a presbyter in the diocese of Fort Worth, Texas (Anglican Church in North America). I serve as Chaplain at St. Vincent's School and as a canon of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church in Bedford, Texas. In addition to my parish duties and teaching Religion classes in the school I am also the Middle School Social Studies teacher.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Grassroots Films

I was just directed towards the web site of the company that produced "Fishers of Men," the vocations video recently introduced by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Grassroots Films has several worthwhile looking films available through its web site. You may want to check out their "Projects."

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

A Bogus Gospel and the Rule of Truth

I wrote the following article for the May edition of "The Deacon," the monthly newsletter of St. Vincent's Cathedral Church, Bedford, Texas:

There has recently been a great deal of discussion in the news media about the literature of early Christianity. Every year around Easter we see the usual spate of “historical Jesus” news reports, in which an earnest reporter tells his or her readers that “recent discoveries” have “challenged” the way people think about Jesus of Nazareth. This year the hype has been especially intense due to the recent publication by the National Geographic Society of the so-called “Gospel of Judas.”

This Gospel of Judas was written sometime in the second century A.D. for use by a community of heretical Christians commonly known as “Gnostics.” This particular text is typical of the Gnostics, in that Jesus is presented there as a revealer of secret truths to a specially chosen disciple. The character of this secret knowledge frequently involves genealogies of the angelic hosts or discussions of the structure of the eternal realms. It is completely unlike the teachings of Jesus found in the New Testament. This, for example, is a typical saying of the Gnostic Jesus found in the “Judas Gospel”: And a luminous cloud appeared [in Heaven]. He said, ‘Let an angel come into being as my attendant.’ A great angel, the enlightened divine Self-Generated, emerged from the cloud. Because of him, four other angels came into being from another cloud, and they became attendants for the angelic Self-Generated. Obviously, this Gnostic Redeemer is very different from the Jesus we know from the Sermon on the Mount! The leaders of mainstream ancient Christianity knew these late, spurious Gnostic writings well, and they universally rejected them as contrary to the Christian faith handed down to the Church by the Lord’s first apostles.

By the early second century A.D. the structures of the Christian Church were becoming well-defined. This Church was clearly distinguished from the newly-invented Gnostic sects, both in its leadership and its doctrines. The bishops of the Church could trace the lineage of their offices directly back to the original apostles of Christ. As St. Clement of Rome recalled in a letter written in 96 A.D.: “Our apostles knew, through our Lord Jesus Christ, that there would be strife on account of the office of the episcopate. For this reason, therefore, inasmuch as they had obtained a perfect foreknowledge of this, they appointed those [ministers] already mentioned, and afterward gave instructions that when they should fall asleep other approved men should succeed them in their ministry.” While the Gnostics claimed to possess special knowledge passed down from one apostle or another in secret, mystical writings, the bishops of the Church shared in a direct, public line of “apostolic succession.” There was nothing “secret” about the authority of these bishops to lead and teach the Church. It descended to them in an unbroken line from Christ’s gift of the Spirit to the apostles on Easter evening (John 20:22-23) through the public “laying on of hands” from that first apostolic generation down to their own time.

Bishops standing in the apostolic succession preached and defended an understanding of the Christian faith that was already known as Catholic (from the word for “universal” in Latin) and Orthodox (from the words for “right belief” in Greek) early in the second century A.D. This Catholic faith was summarized in a short formula known as “the Rule of Faith” (or "the Rule of Truth"). St. Irenaeus of Lyons, writing around 180 A.D., describes this Rule of Faith as “believing in one God, the Creator of heaven and earth, and all things therein, by means of Christ Jesus, the Son of God; who, because of His surpassing love towards His creation, condescended to be born of the virgin, He Himself uniting man through Himself to God, and having suffered under Pontius Pilate, and rising again, and having been received up in splendor, shall come in glory, the Savior of those who are saved, and the Judge of those who are judged, and sending into eternal fire those who transform the truth, and despise His Father and His advent.” This second-century Rule of Faith became the touchstone of Christian orthodoxy throughout the Roman Empire. Any teachings that did not conform to this Rule, even if they bore the name of an apostle, were rejected as heretical. Affirming the Rule of Faith was a precondition for baptism, and it is the foundation for the Apostles’ Creed the Church still recites today.

Whenever a Catholic, orthodox bishop of the ancient Church was presented with a newfound writing claiming authorship by a figure of the apostolic age, the bishop compared its contents to the Rule of Faith. If the writing’s teachings agreed with the Rule of Faith, then further efforts were made to establish its antiquity and authenticity. But if the teachings of the newfound text did not agree with the Rule of Faith, however, it was rejected as a forgery. In this way the canon of the New Testament was slowly built up in the second and third centuries. Text by text, a consensus developed among the bishops as to which early writings truly reflected the Word of God and which did not. Dozens of heretical texts were excluded from the Scriptures of the Church, including the Gnostic “Gospel of Judas.”

We can see this process at work in a letter written by Bishop Serapion of Antioch in the early 200’s A.D., in which the bishop instructs priests in his diocese to avoid a bogus work known as “The Gospel of Peter.” Serapion writes his clergy: “We, my brothers, receive Peter and all the apostles as we receive Christ, but the writings falsely attributed to them we are experienced enough to reject, knowing that nothing of the sort has been handed down to us. … I have been able to go through the book and draw the conclusion that while most of it accorded with the authentic teaching of the Savior, some passages were spurious additions.” Faithful bishops all over the Roman world defended the faith of the Church in just this way from contamination by heretical forgeries purporting to contain the teachings of Jesus or His apostles. Every time we open our Bibles we are heirs to their painstaking efforts to preserve the Truth of our faith. May God make us properly thankful for the incomparable treasure those early bishops have bequeathed to us in the Holy Scriptures of the New Testament.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

A Sermon for 2 Easter

Sometimes history is not kind. Think of Saint Thomas the Apostle, for example. Thomas was a follower of Jesus from near the beginning. He traveled around Galilee, Samaria and Judea with his Master for the better part of three years, sharing the hardships of perpetual life on the road and the opposition of the ruling elites that Jesus had aroused. Thomas, like the rest of the Twelve, had been given “authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every infirmity.” He had seen with his own eyes the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers cleansed and the deaf hear. He had been there as the dead were raised up and the poor had good news preached to them, and Thomas had rejoiced in his heart at these mighty works of God.

Thomas was as committed to the cause of our Lord as any other apostle, perhaps more than most. When Jesus announced that, despite the risk, He had decided to travel to Bethany to visit his ailing friend Lazarus, some of the other apostles tried to stop our Lord from going--but not Thomas. No, Thomas would follow Jesus wherever He went, exhorting his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." Saint Thomas was, in fact, a faithful man and a dedicated servant of Christ who longed to follow His Master with all of his heart. And yet the world remembers him pejoratively as “doubting Thomas” because of the Gospel lesson we have heard today.

This is terribly unjust and inaccurate, for Thomas was not a man made for “doubting.” He was a man of conviction—a believer. Thomas had seen mighty deeds of power at the hands of Jesus and he had believed. He believed that the prophecies of Isaiah and Jeremiah and the other prophets were being fulfilled in his Master’s ministry. Liberation was coming through the work of God’s anointed, and it was coming soon. Our king and savior draweth nigh. Hosanna in the highest! Jesus of Nazareth is the blessed One who comes in the name of the Lord! Thomas believed that absolutely as he threw his cloak on the donkey and followed our Lord into Jerusalem, shouting for joy. … And then it was all over in an instant.

No, Thomas was certainly not a doubter. He was a man who knew the truth. He knew what Roman thugs could do with their metal-and-bone-studded whips. He knew what nine inch spikes do to a human body when they are driven through hands and feet. He knew what it meant when a clear fluid mingled with the blood that gushed from a spear wound in a man’s side. And he knew with certitude that Jewish peasants convicted of high treason against the Empire did not come down off of their crosses alive. The mangled corpse of Jesus was a cold, hard fact, as cold and hard as the stone that sealed his borrowed tomb. There was no room for doubt.

We don’t know where Thomas was on Easter when the rest of the surviving apostles encountered our risen Lord. Perhaps he was simply too broken hearted after the terrible events of Friday and couldn’t bear to be around people. Wherever Thomas was, he missed something big that Sunday.

“We have seen the Lord!" the other apostles told Thomas, brimming with joy. I can practically hear them now as they filled in the details: “Actually, Thomas, the Lord first appeared to Mary Magdalene and Salome and some of the other women. Mary didn’t immediately recognize Him. She thought He was a gardener, but when He spoke to her she knew Jesus had come back to life. Oh, there were also two other disciples traveling to Emmaus. They saw the risen Lord, too. At first they didn’t recognize Him either. But after He had talked with them about the Scriptures for a while and they sat down to break bread together, they suddenly knew it was the risen Jesus—just before He disappeared from their sight.” And then they gave Thomas the clincher. “The ten of us were all here in this room, with the doors locked, when the risen Lord appeared to us! He bid us “Peace” and then He breathed on us, telling us that we were receiving the Spirit and that we now have the authority to forgive sins. Then He asked for some broiled fish, and we watched Him eat it.” That was certainly a lot of information for Thomas to take in!

Thomas knew these people well and he loved them like brothers, but how could he possibly take what they were telling him at face value? Thomas knew death, just as you and I do. And there was absolutely no doubt that Jesus had died on that Roman cross. But Thomas had also seen people raised from the dead. Jesus certainly had the power to restore the dead to life while He walked the earth. Thomas had seen it with his own eyes. Lazarus of Bethany, the daughter of Jairus, and a young man from Nain had all been raised from the dead at the command of Jesus. But those people had come back from the dead unchanged. They simply got up and they were the same people they had always been. No one would have mistaken them for someone else. They couldn’t walk through locked doors. They couldn’t hop from one town to another in the blink of an eye. These stories about Jesus on Easter Sunday described something quite different. If Jesus had in fact risen from the grave the way Thomas’ friends were now describing, then He must now partake of life in an entirely new way—transcending normal human limitations. If these resurrection stories were true, then the known boundaries between life and death, between the material and spiritual, between time and eternity, had been fundamentally redrawn.

The other apostles, the women at the tomb, and the disciples at Emmaus had each glimpsed this new Reality on Easter Sunday. Thomas would do so as well a week later when the risen Lord appeared to him. And when Thomas saw the risen Christ, when he gazed upon the glorified scars in our Lord’s hands and side, he did not doubt. He believed. With breathtaking insight St. Thomas became the first person to confess the true nature of the One who had become flesh and dwelt among us. “My Lord and my God!” the astonished disciple cried. The entire planet must have reverberated with those five words: “My Lord and my God.”

This heart-felt cry of St. Thomas was unique. The Blessed Virgin Mary had quietly treasured up what she knew about our Savior’s Incarnation in her heart, apparently telling no one. At Caesarea Philippi St. Peter had confessed Jesus to be “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God,” but when Peter said this he did not yet understand what our Lord’s Messiahship really meant. After all, the kings of ancient Israel had been called “sons of God,” so Peter’s confession was not recognized for the full truth it contained until after the Resurrection. The demons of Hell had recognized Jesus as “the Holy One of God” during His earthly ministry of exorcism, but our Lord had silenced those demons Himself. So the honor of recognizing and confessing the full deity of our Savior fell to Saint Thomas alone. On that first Sunday after Easter “doubting Thomas” became the first human being in history to tell the world the whole Truth—the only Truth that saves: the man Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified and risen One, is GOD Almighty.

There is a deep longing in every human heart to know God and to enjoy Him forever. You and I were designed for eternal fellowship with our Creator, as genuine as Adam and Eve once enjoyed with Him in the Garden. All human spirituality since the Fall has been, in some sense, an attempt to restore our broken communion with the Divine. Unfortunately, not all religious paths lead back to the Creator God. Today’s Gospel lesson shows us clearly where our quest must have its end, if it is to end in Life. If we truly want to find our way back to God, we must meet Him where He wills to be found—in the person of the Father’s only-begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God Incarnate. If our spiritual quest does not take us to Bethlehem, and Calvary, and Christ’s rocky tomb on Easter morning, then it will be fruitless. The one true God is a loving Savior, who stands before a fallen world and offers it His own broken and glorified Body as the Way to eternal life. Even now He entreats us, just as He did Saint Thomas the Believer so long ago: “Do not be faithless, but believing.”

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Membership Stats for ECUSA and Fort Worth

New statistics are out today regarding membership in our diocese. Some folks might wish to read meaning into the solid growth in the "conservative" diocese of Fort Worth while the national church has continued its steady decline. I leave it to you, Gentle Reader, to determine what you think. (Hat tip to Fr. Nelson.) By the way, attendance at virtually all of our Holy Week services at St. Vincent's was up this year over last year. (There was a slight dip on Maundy Thursday, for some reason, but other services had dozens more in attendance this year than last.)

Change in
baptized members,
Change in communicants
in good standing,

Diocese of Fort Worth



Province 7 average



Episcopal Church in the U.S.



Sunday, April 16, 2006

Alleluia, Christ is risen!

From Pope Benedict's homily at the Easter Vigil:

The Resurrection is not a thing of the past, the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands grow weak. We grasp hold of his hand, and thus we also hold on to one another's hands, and we become one single subject, not just one thing. I, but no longer I: This is the formula of Christian life rooted in baptism, the formula of the Resurrection within time. I, but no longer I: If we live in this way, we transform the world. It is a formula contrary to all ideologies of violence, it is a program opposed to corruption and to the desire for power and possession.

"I live and you will live also," says Jesus in St. John's Gospel (14:19) to his disciples, that is, to us. We will live through our existential communion with him, through being taken up into him who is life itself. Eternal life, blessed immortality, we have not by ourselves or in ourselves, but through a relation -- through existential communion with him who is truth and love and is therefore eternal: God himself. Simple indestructibility of the soul by itself could not give meaning to eternal life, it could not make it a true life. Life comes to us from being loved by him who is life; it comes to us from living-with and loving-with him. I, but no longer I: This is the way of the cross, the way that "crosses over" a life simply closed in on the I, thereby opening up the road towards true and lasting joy.

The entire homily may be read at Zenit.

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Sermon for Good Friday 2006

“He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed.” From the Book of the prophet Isaiah, in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Around the year 380 A.D. a Spanish nun named Egeria made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Sister Egeria visited all the “must see” sacred places on what had by the late fourth century become a popular pilgrimage trail. Thankfully, the good sister kept a detailed journal of her travels and it has survived through the centuries for us to read. As a result, we know a great deal today about worship practices in the Holy Land at the time of her visit. This is how she describes worship in Jerusalem on Good Friday around the year 380:

“The bishop duly takes his seat in the chair, and a table covered with a linen cloth is placed before him; the deacons stand round the table, and a silver-gilt casket is brought in which is the holy wood of the [True] Cross. The casket is opened and [the wood] is taken out, and both the wood of the Cross and [the sign Pilate had affixed to the Cross] are placed upon the table. Now, when it has been put upon the table, the bishop, as he sits, holds the extremities of the sacred wood firmly in his hands, while the deacons who stand around guard it. It is guarded thus because the custom is that the people … come one by one and, bowing down at the table, kiss the sacred wood and pass through. And because … some one is said to have [once] bitten off and stolen a portion of the sacred wood, it is thus guarded by the deacons …, lest any one approaching should venture to do so again. And as all the people pass by one by one, all bowing themselves, they touch the Cross and [the sign,] first with their foreheads and then with their eyes; then they kiss the Cross and pass through, but none lays his hand upon it to touch it."

Tonight, my brothers and sisters, our liturgy echoes across sixteen centuries. We share it with the communion of saints. Sister Egeria would undoubtedly feel at home with us this evening.

Now the idea of deacons inspecting the mouths of departing pilgrims to insure they are not smuggling out a fragment of the True Cross is, I admit, a bit humorous. But what motivated those early Christians to attempt sacred larceny as they knelt and reverenced that precious wood? Even for those of us who have been born again to new life in the waters of Holy Baptism, there are times when this fallen world be can be a trying place—a place where hopes and dreams are routinely stifled, where pain and loss are ever-present but nothing good seems to last. Those early pilgrims to Jerusalem longed for their Lord to be with them in some tangible, lasting way as they traveled through the dark places of life, just as we do. And nowhere is the abiding love of God more tangible than the Cross “whereon hung the world’s salvation.” Who would not, in the presence of that holy Cross, long to keep it with them always?

It is, of course, deeply ironic that our hearts now long to be in the presence of Christ’s Cross. On that first Good Friday certainly none of Christ’s followers wanted to be at the Place of the Skull. Most of the apostles were absent. Maybe they simply couldn’t bear to see their Master executed, or perhaps they still feared for their own lives, or both. A few of the faithful women who had followed Jesus watched from a distance as their Lord was murdered. Only the Apostle John and the Blessed Virgin dared to approach close enough to speak with Jesus in His last moments. It was all so confusing and tragic and pointless. How could those first witnesses possibly find any meaning in this horror? The intense absence they felt as they took His precious Body down off of the Cross—an absence symbolized by that empty Tabernacle and missing lamp tonight--must have been too much to bear.

Their personal grief and shattered dreams understandably blinded them to the most astonishing event in human history, indeed in cosmic history. The Lord of Creation--the One in whom all things live and move and have their being, the Word made flesh, the Alpha and the Omega--was dying before their eyes on that Cross in order that they–and we—need never die. God Incarnate took upon Himself all of the sin and suffering the world has ever known—or will ever know. From the “harmless white lies” we tell to make our lives easier and the questionable business practices that we tell ourselves are so “necessary,” to the blows and curses of abusive parents and the atrocities of concentration camp guards, every sin committed by the human race since that last dawn in Eden until the End of Days—Christ took them all upon his shoulders as “He stretched out His arms of love on the hard wood of the cross.” Every broken heart ever suffered, every ache and pain of old age, every tear shed at every graveside—our Lord Jesus bore them all deep in His own soul on Calvary. And in some mysterious way beyond human comprehension the Love of God made manifest, our Lord Jesus Christ, took all that sin and suffering and swallowed it whole! There is no pain that we can suffer that Christ has not already shared, and there is no sin that is beyond the redemption of the Holy One who became accursed for our sake. By His sacrifice of Himself upon the Cross our Savior God has filled the abyss of Death with Love. And all Christ asks in return for the innumerable benefits of His Passion is that we repent of our sin and turn to Him in faith with love.

Tonight you and I do not have the privilege of reverencing the physical wood of the True Cross upon which Christ died, but we shall soon have in our midst something far greater. When the deacon returns to the sanctuary with the Pre-Sanctified Gifts, the One who “has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” will again be specially present here with us in tangible form. Therefore, brothers and sisters, in the words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.” Dear friends in Christ, let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful, faithful even unto death on a Cross.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Maundy Thursday

The Truth declares that even he who has been washed has need still to wash his feet. What, my brethren, think you of it? In holy baptism a man has all of himself washed, not all save his feet, but every whit; and yet, while thereafter living in this human state, he cannot fail to tread on the ground with his feet. And thus our human feelings themselves, which are inseparable from our mortal life on earth, are like feet wherewith we are brought into sensible contact with human affairs; and are so in such a way, that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. And every day, therefore, is He who intercedeth for us washing our feet: and that we, too, have daily need to be washing our feet, that is ordering aright the path of our spiritual footsteps. We acknowledge this even in the Lord's Prayer when we say, "Forgive us our debts as we also forgive our debtors." For "if," as it is written, "we confess our sins," then verily is He, who washed His disciples' feet, "faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness," that is, even to our feet wherewith we walk on the earth.

Augustine of Hippo, Tractates on the Gospel according to St. John 56.4

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Mass of Collegiality

The photograph above depicts the Rt. Rev. Jack Leo Iker consecrating the elements yesterday at St. Vincent's Cathedral during the annual Mass of Collegiality, at which our diocesan clergy renew their ordination vows. The entire body of priests in our diocese joined the bishop as concelebrants at the altar. Please watch this space for a link to the bishop's sermon, when it becomes available.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

A Sermon for Monday of Holy Week

It was all over the news last week. A new gospel had been discovered, the “Gospel of Judas,” and it was going to change the way people thought about Judas Iscariot and Jesus Christ. The news stories typically played up a brief passage in this newly-discovered ancient text that claimed Jesus had instructed Judas to betray Him. In this version Judas received special, secret knowledge from the Savior and was promised an eternal reward far greater than that of the other apostles.

What the news accounts did not usually emphasize, however, was the fact that a well-known heretical group had composed this newfound “gospel” more than a century after the death of their hero. It tells us absolutely nothing new about the historical Judas Iscariot or Jesus of Nazareth. “The Gospel of Judas” was written for Gnostics, not mainstream Christians, and bears little resemblance to the authentic gospels in our New Testament. The Judas gospel is a typical Gnostic text, featuring arcane speculations about the structure of the cosmos, detailed genealogies of the angelic host, and—most significantly--secret knowledge of how the Gnostic could liberate his spirit from the prison of his physical body and achieve salvation by spiritual reunion with “the One.” You see, the last thing a Gnostic “savior” would want to do is “save the world.” For ancient Gnostics the material world we inhabit is evil by nature and cannot be saved. They considered their physical bodies merely traps that ensnared the divine sparks they carried within them. The Gnostic Redeemer was a mythical figure who came down from Heaven to show them how to escape from their physical bodies forever. In short, the message of the Gospel of Judas is “Beam me up, Scotty. This place is beyond saving!”

The real Jesus is very different. Tonight’s Gospel lesson is no Gnostic “redeemer myth.” It is the story of an authentic human being—the authentic human being—spending the evening with close personal friends, bonds of affection strengthened over a family meal. Of course, this gathering wasn’t exactly a typical dinner party. After all Lazarus was there, a living, breathing testimony to the importance our Lord placed upon the life of the body. Mary and Martha were also present, eyewitnesses to the divine power of their friend, the Man who is Himself “the Resurrection and the Life.”

In the end Mary could no longer contain her gratitude for Christ’s gift of her brother’s life. She “took a pound of expensive ointment made from pure nard, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.” How astonishingly un-Gnostic of Mary! Her gesture is a feast for the senses. St. John stresses touch and smell here. We can practically feel the luxuriant anointment on our skin and smell its sweet fragrance. And the image of Mary tenderly wiping the Lord’s feet with her hair is so sensuous as to be almost embarrassing! No one who reads this passage can mistake Christianity for a faith that considers the human body something evil to be abandoned as soon as possible! The Lord's Body is a thing to be cherished, even as it is anointed ahead of time for burial. Mary's action is an enacted love poem to the Incarnation.

The saving acts of Christ that we celebrate this week are the saving acts of God in history, the Redeemer's re-sanctification of the day-to-day world that you and I inhabit. Holy Week is every bit as much about flesh and blood as it is about spirit. On Thursday night Jesus will break real bread and bless real wine and give it to His disciples, and it will become His very Flesh and Blood. On Friday Christ’s precious Body will be flayed with a cat-o-nine-tails and pierced by thorns and nails and a spear. His life-blood will soak into the splintered wood of a Roman cross and His breath will give out with a cry. His corpse will be wrapped in coarse linen and laid in a tomb with seventy-five pounds of aromatic aloes and myrrh. And finally on Easter Sunday, after the Lord of Creation has triumphed over Death by rising bodily from the grave--the very stones reverberating with the power of absolute Life--the risen Christ will go to the upper room, sit down again with His friends and enjoy a nice fish dinner!

Make no mistake about it--we worship an embodied Savior, the One who "became flesh and dwelt among us." And when Christ redeemed us He redeemed the whole of us: body, soul and spirit. In a few moments He will offer us the whole of Himself, His Body, soul, spirit and divinity, in the Blessed Sacrament of the altar--just as He offered up the whole of His Being on Mt. Calvary. Our response to Christ's self-giving love must be bodily as well as spiritual. In the words of the letter to the Hebrews "let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverence the race that is set before us." May God grant us the grace to respond to Christ’s gift of life with the total devotion modeled by St. Mary of Bethany on Monday of that first Holy Week, joining her on our knees in adoration. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

A Brief Personal Update

I had a request from a friend via e-mail that brief periodic updates about what is going on in my life be posted on my blog so friends with whom regular communication is difficult can stay in touch. That sounds fair, so here goes (for those who care to read it):

With the departure of our curate last week for the Roman Catholic Church we are now a bit short staffed with clergy at the cathedral. As a result I, a humble licensed lay preacher and postulant, am stepping up my participation in the preaching rota a bit. I will deliver homilies on Monday of Holy Week and on Good Friday, then preach again on the second Sunday of Easter. May God give me clarity of thought and expression to proclaim His Word.

We have six weeks to go in our Spring semester at St. Vincent's School and things are moving along nicely. I enjoy the classes that I am teaching, my students are (by and large) engaged and interesting to talk to, and am finding leading school chapel twice per week to be very rewarding. In late May I will accompany our 8th graders on their big four day trip to Washington, D.C. That should be a lot of fun. I haven't been there in almost twenty years.

Next year I will be the full-time History teacher in our middle and upper schools at St. Vincent's, as well as the school's lay chaplain and Religion teacher. Our plans for adding our first year of high school at SVCS are moving along nicely and I believe we already have seven 9th graders signed up. I am very pleased to see this growth, though unless more funding comes in quickly the second floor of our upper school building may not be completed by the time school starts in the Fall. Any generous donors reading this out there?

I begin my Clinical Pastoral Education at Baylor Health Care Systems during the first week of June and it will run all summer. It sounds daunting, but I am looking forward to CPE as an important learning experience. Then in the Fall I will serve as a ministry intern at St. Laurence Church in Grapevine as I continue to read in preparation for our diocesan canonical exams (which I hope to take in January, if it pleases God and the COM). St. Laurence is a fine parish where I have taught an adult Christian education class before, and Fr Crary and his curates are all priests from whom I can learn a great deal.

All in all, things are going well for me. My mother is recovering nicely from her recent cancer surgery and my father is also faring well. Thanks for all of your prayers on their behalf. Well, that ought to do it for an update. God bless you all.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Recommendations for General Convention

The Special Commission created by ECUSA's national leadership to recommend resolutions for GenCon06 relating to the Windsor Report and the present crisis in the Anglican Communion has now submitted its report. The most important recommendations are found on pages 24 through 27. You may read the entire report here, but below are some selections from the key recommended resolutions (Emphasis added).

Resolution A160 Expression of Regret
Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church join the House of Bishops’ March 2005 “Covenant Statement” in expressing “our own deep regret for the pain that others have experienced with respect to our actions at the General Convention of 2003 and we offer our sincerest apology and repentance for having breached the bonds of affection in the Anglican Communion by any failure to consult adequately with our Anglican partners before taking these actions.”

Resolution A161 Election of Bishops
Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church regrets the extent to which we have, by action and inaction, contributed to strains on communion and caused deep offense to many faithful Anglican Christians as we consented to the consecration of a bishop living openly in a same-gender union. Accordingly, we urge nominating committees, electing conventions, Standing Committees, and bishops with jurisdiction to exercise very considerable caution in the nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.

The Windsor Report has invited the Episcopal Church to “effect a moratorium on the election and consent to the consecration of any candidate to the episcopate who is living in a same gender union until some new consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges” (Windsor Report 134). Within the parameters set by our Constitution and Canons, this resolution frames a response encouraging caution regarding “nomination, election, consent to, and consecration of bishops whose manner of life presents a challenge to the wider church and will lead to further strains on communion.” The resolution does not specify what constitutes a “manner of life” that “presents a challenge to the wider church;” we leave this to the prayerful discernment of those involved in nominating, electing, and consecrating bishops. Concerns we discussed were by no means limited to the nature of the family life; for example, the potential of bishops to serve effectively as pastors for all within their diocese, and their level of commitment to respect the dignity of and strive for justice for all people are also relevant. Finally, the Special Commission was not of one mind on the use of the words “exercise very considerable caution in,” with some instead recommending the words “refrain from.” As a group and in a spirit of cooperation and generosity, however, we decided to offer the resolution as it stands for debate at the 75th General Convention.

Resolution A162 Public Rites of Blessing for Same-Sex Unions
Resolved, the House of _____ concurring, That the 75th General Convention of the Episcopal Church affirm the need to maintain a breadth of private responses to situations of individual pastoral care for gay and lesbian Christians in this Church; and be it further Resolved, That the 75th General Convention concur with the Windsor Report in its exhortation to bishops of the Anglican Communion to honor the Primates’ Pastoral Letter of May 2003, by not proceeding to authorize public Rites of Blessing for same-sex unions, until some broader consensus in the Anglican Communion emerges; and be it further Resolved, That the 75th General Convention advise those bishops who have authorized public diocesan rites that, “because of the serious repercussions in the Communion,” they heed the invitation “to express regret that the proper constraints of the bonds of affection were breached by such authorization” (Windsor Report 144).

English Translation of the Gnostic "Gospel of Judas"

An English translation of the alleged early fourth-century Coptic "Gospel of Judas" has been made available. Read it here.

Interesting Spin on HoB from +No. California

The bishop of Northern California, the Rt. Rev. Jerry Lamb, has chimed in with his take on the recent House of Bishops' Meeting, and this time the tenor is somewhat different from the other reports we have heard. He says, in part:

There is a genuine desire on the part of the House of Bishops to respond appropriately to the Windsor Report. The Joint Committee appointed by the Presiding Bishop and the President of the House of Deputies gave a preliminary report to the House of Bishops regarding their resolutions that will be coming to General Convention. To my way of thinking, all of these resolutions demonstrated a significant movement towards reconciliation within the Church in the United States and with the Anglican Communion. I don’t believe we will see a recanting of the action taken at the 2003 General Convention, but I do think there will be a sincere acknowledgement of the turmoil that the action took and we will see a commitment towards rebuilding our relationship with the Anglican Communion as a whole. (Emphasis added) Read it all at TitusOneNine.

Note that the message here is quite similar to what we have consistently heard since September 2003. There is an "acknowledgement" that the actions of GenCon03 caused "turmoil," but Bishop Lamb expressly predicts that there will be no "recanting" of the actions that caused the turmoil. I am not sure what he means by "recanting," but the tone of this letter sounds quite consonant with what we have had from the national ECUSA leadership for the last three years: "We are sorry that you chaps in the developing world got so upset over our (completely proper) actions regarding human sexuality in 2003, but we cannot back down now because this is a "justice issue" in our culture. We really do want to be friends and promise to listen more thoughfully to you next time. Can't we all just get along?"

I note that Bishop Howe of Central Florida has called attention to this approach at the HofB Meeting himself. He recently wrote: They are genuinely sorry for having “torn the fabric of our Communion at its deepest level.” I have no question about that. And for that they are sincerely repentant. We have all had a tutorial in what it means to be part of a world-wide Communion; what it means to have “bonds of affection” and what it means to violate those bonds; what it means to be “members, one of another. Our bishops are NOT repentant for the decision to confirm Gene Robinson’s election in and of itself - for they do not believe it was wrong. But they are sincerely sorry/repentant for having breached the “bonds of affection.” And they do NOT want to see the Communion destroyed.

If GenCon06 doesn't take some pretty significant steps back from the brink, I cannot imagine that the Global South primates led by Archbishops Akinola and Venables will accept its actions. They will not be mollified by tender words about being "sorry for the pain we've caused you" if those words are not accompanied by at least a start in rolling back the theological Left's agenda in ECUSA. Genuine repentance is needed. We shall see which version of the House of Bishops turns up this summer, Bishop Steenson's or Bishop Lamb's. One might save ECUSA as a united body, the other probably will not.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Gospel of Judas Found?

The N.Y. Times today reports that the long-sought Gnostic text known as "The Gospel of Judas" has been found in Egypt. It is apparently contained in an early fourth century A.D. Coptic manuscript. I would like to read the text myself (in translation--sadly I do not read Coptic) and hear the judgments of scholars whose qualifications I know and respect before I will form an opinion about this text myself, but I am pretty sure the comments of Elaine Pagels et al in the Times article are overblown. This is a yet another in a long list of late antique Gnostic texts, not some great revelation. It is too much to say that "these discoveries are exploding the myth of a monolithic religion." That "myth" was long ago "exploded" by the existence of the heretical sects opposed in the canonical letters of the Apostles Paul and John and the work of St. Irenaeus. No thoughtful person today believes that everyone who claimed to be a Christian in antiquity accepted the orthodox, Catholic faith of the apostolic college. Dozen of Gnostic writings of comparable date to this purported find have been known since the 1940's. I am glad that scholars have another such Gnostic text to study (if in fact is proves to be genuine), but let's keep things in perspective, shall we? Read the story here.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Education Levels of American Religious Traditions

Percentage of members of religious tradition with university degrees, 2000:

Unitarian 61.1%
Jewish 60.2%
Episcopal (Anglican) 45.5%
Presbyterian Church USA 39.7%
UCC 35.3%
LDS (Mormons) 28.1%
Nonreligious 27.1%
United Methodist 27.0%
Missouri/Wisconsin Lutheran 24.0%
Conservative Methodist 24.0%
ELCA 23.6%
American Baptist 22.0%
Roman Catholic 21.7%
Black Baptist 19.9%
Southern Baptist 16.4%
Nondenominational 12.9%
Adventist 12.0%
Assembly of God 10.3%
Other Pentacostal 7.0%
Jehovah’s Witness 7.0 %

I just thought this was a bit interesting. Clearly the better-educated Christian denominations are also among those whose national leaders have drifted furthest from traditional understandings of Christianity, though I would have thought the UCC ranked higher in the list based upon its heterodoxy. (Incidentally, I believe there was a study a few years back that said Sikhs actually top the list in the U.S., but they were apparently not counted in this study.) Hat tip to TitusOneNine. The entire sociological study is worth skimming, and may be found here.

More Upbeat Remarks about the HoB Meeting

TitusOneNine has posted another comment from a bishop reflecting on the recent House of Bishops' meeting in which it is opined that the Commission on the Anglican Communion's recommendations will be accepted by the bishops at GenCon06. This time it is the bishop of East Tennessee giving the upbeat report.

At this rate it seems increasing unlikely to me that there will be any major parting of the ways between the orthodox and the revisionists following GenCon06 this summer. It looks like the bishops will endorse these recommendations from the special commission. We cannot know how the House of Deputies will vote as of yet, meaning that the recommendations could still fail to carry the day at GenCon06. But my suspicion is that the general movement in favor of remaining a part of the world-wide Anglican Communion will convince enough members of both houses to endorse the recommendations. I believe the status quo will be retained until Lambeth 2008.

Of course, if the diocese of California elects a non-celibate homosexual person to serve as their bishop before GenCon06 then this newly found re-commitment to do as much as possible to remain a part of the world-wide Anglican Communion will be put to the test. The confirmation of +Robinson by the house of bishops was actually rather close in 2003, so it is believable that if a few bishops have had a change of heart about the wisdom of their votes to confirm +Robinson then such an inappropriate bishop-elect could be rejected this time around. Approving either a non-celibate homosexual bishop-elect or the creation of blessing rites for same-sex unions would clearly be "choosing to walk apart." Right now, I don't see either of those things happening. It looks like the far-left has lost a bit of its momentum at present. We shall see.

Bishop vonRosenberg says in his sermon: However, in the midst of this sense of unrest, unease - and, perhaps, even hopelessness at times - a special commission of bishops, priests and lay people has been working. We saw a draft report last week, and it really will be a remarkable document. Various voices from the worldwide Anglican Communion will be represented, and these will be woven into the same fabric as differing perspectives of the church in our country. Following the presentation of the draft document, bishops from many points of view indicated that they could support it. This document, then, became a kind of nourishment for us in the House of Bishops - sustaining us, if you will, in a time of hunger and need.

After receiving the document and after hearing the responses to it, I among others knew a kind of peace - peace that comes from the experience of grace. Grace was certainly conveyed into a situation that very much needs the grace of God. Grace, you will remember, is unearned and undeserved - but the experience of it is quite real indeed, as we all know.

You may read the entire sermon here.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Rest in Peace, JPII

REQUIEM aeternam dona ei, Domine, et lux perpetua luceat ei. Requiescat in pace. Amen.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

An April Fools Day Delight

Read the "News" from the Diocese of Saskatchewan right now. Its a hoot! Hat tip to Newbie Anglican.

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