Saturday, July 28, 2007

Gates of Vienna

For information re Christianity and Islam, I recommend the blog Gates of Vienna to you. See the links section of this blog to get to it.

Today's Gospel

Gospel Mt 13:24-30 Jesus proposed a parable to the crowds. “The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a man who sowed good seed in his field. While everyone was asleep his enemy came and sowed weeds all through the wheat, and then went off. When the crop grew and bore fruit, the weeds appeared as well. The slaves of the householder came to him and said, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where have the weeds come from?’ He answered, ‘An enemy has done this.’ His slaves said to him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ He replied, ‘No, if you pull up the weeds you might uproot the wheat along with them. Let them grow together until harvest; then at harvest time I will say to the harvesters, “First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles for burning; but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
One of the first things that I notice is the excessive number of quotation marks that conclude this pericope. They're needed because of all the internal quotations in the body of the text. So much for English grammar.
People want to fix problems---or they want their problems fixed---and fast. The quick fix is so typically American, and few of us are immune to wanting it. Our technology has given us an edge in so many situations in life where health or comfort is desired. The wise person knows that, a) some things can never be fixed in this life; and b) sometimes the quick fix is not the best solution to the problem at hand. Christian history is replete with disgraceful examples of wanting to pull up the weeds before the harvest. Part of our faith is to remember that God is the husbandman, and he will decide from his infinite knowledge when the time for harvest has come. Faith says relax, let go our our attempts to get things all fixed up, and let God handle these situations.

Poor Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria

The patriarch of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III, has added his voice to others in response to the recent Vatican answers to certain questions about the relationship between the Catholic Church and other Christian bodies. Saying to the effect that Pope Benedict doesn't know when to quit, he opines that first, in Benedict's Regensburg speech, he infuriated Muslims, he has now turned himself to other Christians and said that they were inferior. Of course, anyone who reads the document, plus Dominus Iesus or Unitatis Redintegratio will see that nothing has changed in the attitude of the Church toward other Christian churches. Whether or not we "needed" this recent clarification I don't know. That being said, one has to consider the position of Pope Shenouda. I don't mean his theological position, but rather his political position. See my blog for 9/18/06. The Alexandrian Patriarch is in Egypt, remember, surrounded by militant Muslims who are constantly harassing Coptic Christians, attacking their churches, raping and murdering their people. The Pope's political position makes it impossible for him to speak out against Muslim atrocities and almost makes him a catspaw in the hands of the Muslim ascendancy. (As an aside, think of the advantage of having the head of your church, and your whole church for that matter, independent from the state in its headquarters reside. Can you say "Vatican?")

How then should we take any comments by Pope Shenouda? With a grain of blessed salt, I think. We can never know what he really thinks when he has to keep his comments totally unoffensive to the Muslim overlords. Isn't it also funny that the Grand Mufti of Cairo has made a pledge with the Orthodox Archbishop of Cyprus to protect the Orthodox churches that are in the Turkish controlled part of Cyprus? Why can't he do the same for the Copts?

Let's anoint this with the prayer for the Unity of Christians from the Roman Missal:

Almighty and eternal God. You keep together those you have united. Look kindly on all who follow Jesus your Son. We are all consecrated to you by our common baptism; make us one in the fullness of faith and keep us one in the fellowship of love. We ask 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.

Good News in Christian-Muslim Relations (for a change)

Grand Imam to Protect Church Buildings NICOSIA, Cyprus, JULY 27, 2007 ( Egypt's most senior Muslim cleric has agreed to help protect Orthodox churches under Turkish occupation since 1974 in the island republic.Mohamed Sayed Tantawi, the grand imam of Egypt, told Chrysostomos II, Orthodox archbishop of New Justiniana and All Cyprus, that he would support the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in Cyprus to help prevent further destruction of the religious sites, the Cyprus News Agency reported. The archbishop reported that more than 500 churches in occupied Cyprus need urgent restoration to avoid collapsing because of structural weaknesses. According to the archbishop's press spokesman, Andreas Demetriou, the pledge was given at a one-hour meeting between the two held in Cairo, during which the archbishop outlined the situation on the island. Archbishop Chrysostomos II also explained to Grand Imam Tantawi that the Church of Cyprus had always respected Muslim places of worship on the island. Grand Imam Tantawi said he would work for peace and love in Cyprus while promising support for the Orthodox Church.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Relief from a Roman Sarcophagus

When I was in Rome in November, I took this picture of an old Roman sarcophagus in the cloister of St. Paul's "outside the walls." It reminded me of that wonderful line by Robert Benchley, when he was doing a humorous piece about visiting a museum. He said that he came on a sculpture that was labeled: Relief from a Roman Sarcaphogus. His comment was (wait for it!) "When I think of Roman sarcophogi, anything would be a relief from them." Now who can argue with that?

Today's Gospel

Gospel Mt 13: 18-23

Jesus said to his disciples:“Hear the parable of the sower.The seed sown on the path is the one who hears the word of the Kingdom without understanding it,and the Evil One comes and steals away what was sown in his heart.The seed sown on rocky ground is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy. But he has no root and lasts only for a time.When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,he immediately falls away. The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word and it bears no fruit.But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it,who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirty fold.”

This explanation of the parable of the sower was probably not part of the original parable, but rather a reflection by the early Church on Jesus' words.
The privilege of being a disciple is to be able to understand, through faith, what the message of God is: firstly, Jesus himself, the Incarnate Logos, and then, his teachings. The application of the seed that fell on the path, on rocky soil, and among thorns, would mirror the early Church's experience with some converts at divers times: they started out well, but other things intervened, and they fell away. Kind of like it is today, isn't it?

The explanation teaches us that rich soil is the only environment in which the Word can flourish.

How could we be that rich soil? We can't make ourselves into fertile seedbeds for the Word, unless God blesses us and gives us the capacity. One a human level, I'm not very rich soil. There's plenty of inhospitable ground in me; but what a grace God has given us!

Get rid of the cross, or we will burn your churches

(This is taken from the Asia News site:

Islamic group in Baghdad: “Get rid of the cross or we will burn your Churches”.In the Dora quarter threats continue to be made against Christians. In the last two months Christian parishes have been forced to give in to extremist pressure, only the Church of Sts Peter and Paul has withstood so far. A fatwa forbids the practice of Christian ritual gestures. The US army occupies Babel College, property of the Chaldean Patriarchate.
Baghdad (AsiaNews) – “Get rid of the cross or we will burn your Churches”. This is the threat aimed at the Chaldean Church of Sts Peter and Paul, located in the ancient Christian quarter of Baghdad, Dora. Local sources say an unknown armed Islamic group is behind the threats which are inseminating terror in the capital. The Arab website and Aina news agency speak of a campaign of persecution in act in the area. Even Mosul, a Sunni stronghold, the Christian presence is being gravely threatened.

Msgr. Shlemon Warduni, Chaldean auxiliary bishop of Baghdad, tells AsiaNews “in the last 2 months many Churches have been forced to remove their crosses from their domes”. In the case of the Church of St. George, assira, Muslim extremists took the situation into their own hands: they climbed onto the roof and ripped out the cross. In the Chaldean Church of St John, in Dora, which has been without a pastor for months now, the parishioners themselves decided to move the cross to a safer place following repeated threats.

The same threats which have arrived at the Church of Sts Peter and Paul, which has so far however withstood intimidation: the cross hasn’t been removed but the threats continue. “The Iraqi people are tired – says Warduni – we have been suffering for far too long the situation has become unsustainable; we ask God to give us peace. The Christians, just like the Muslims, want to rebuild Iraq, we don’t want to be forced to flee, because this is where we were born, this is where we have lived our lives”.

The Islamic group active in Dora seems to have delivered an ultimatum to the Christian community there: convert to Islam or die; moreover reports say that they have delivered a Fatwa forbidding Christians to wear the cross or make any religious gesture. It also permits the confiscation of goods and properties belonging to the Christian families who find themselves forced to flee their homes for safety at short notice.

Baghdad’s Christian community’s worries have been added to by the US military’s decision to forcibly occupy Babel College, property of the Chaldean Church. The Babel, the only faculty of theology in the country, houses on of the most ancient religious libraries in the region, full of priceless manuscripts. Because of the increased insecurity in the city and continual abductions of religious the faculty had transferred to Ankawa, in Kurdistan January last, leaving the building empty. The US military are now using it as an observation outpost. The building is located at a strategic crossroads: within a Sunni enclave, in front of a Shiite district. Leaders from the local Church are discussing the issue with military representatives. Apparently they have promised to abandon the structure in the coming weeks. (End of article)

Even our own presence there is causing problems for the Christian minority. Our soldiers dare not be seen as defending the Christian minority, or else they would confirm their designation as "crusaders" in the minds of the Iraqi Muslims. And since our soldiers not defending the Christians, it won't make any difference for the Christians when we pull out of Iraq, will it? You can be sure the persecution of the Church in Iraq will continue unabated as it always is under Muslim rule.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


Local Boy Scout, Will Wilson, prepares a strip of land on the north side of our church property to receive St. Augustine grass. This work is Will's Eagle Scout project. He is being assisted by other scouts and his father. This will beautify and make mowable this area below the retaining wall that we have not been able to do much with until now. Good work, Will!

Sts. Joachim and Anne, Parents of the BVM

Today the Church celebrates the feast of Sts. Joachim and Anne, parents of St. Mary the Virgin. Devotion to them goes back to the second century, but only became common in the sixth. The gospel reading from today's feast is Matthew 13:16-17, two short verses.
The words of Jesus in today’s gospel follow a quotation from the prophet Isaiah:
Listen and listen, but never understand! Look and look, but never perceive! This people’s heart has grown coarse, their ears dulled, they have shut their eyes tight to avoid using their eyes to see, their ears to hear, their heart to understand, changing their ways and being healed by me.
Here Jesus is approving those disciples who listen through his parables to their inner meaning, and allow them to change their lives. Many have longed to see what you see.
Think of the advantages any baptized Christian has over Abraham or Moses. What we receive from Christ is so far beyond what they received that there is no comparison.
Even if we had been present at the Burning Bush, it would not be a greater encounter with God that is that sacramental union with him that we receive in Holy Communion.

Collect for the day: God of our fathers, you gave Saints Joachim and Ann the privilege of being the parents of Mary, the mother of your incarnate Son. May their prayers help us to attain the salvation you have promised to your people. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spriit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Back in the Saddle

I have decided to come back to blogging, and this is my first installment in months. Michael Odom, our organist-choirmaster and I spent a week in Indianapolis at the national convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians. Many good experiences and much music we\re had by both of us. It will take time for us to separate the gold from the dross.

Summer is half over, and today we celebrate the feast of St. James, Apostle of Christ and patron of Spain where his aid was invoked during the reconquista, and was apparently effective since it earned him the sobriquet: Matamoros, or Moor-Slayer. The great shrine at Compostella was a major pilgrimage goal in the middle ages, and is still so today.

One noteworthy thing on this feast as it is celebrated at Compostella is the botafumeiro, a gigantic thurifer that is hung from the ceiling. Once it gets going, it is swung by men like a large pendulum from the ceiling of the church. Such a wonderful thing would make a great addition to our church here in El Dorado.

Along with St. John, he, with the help of his mother, was trying to get to sit on either side of Jesus when our Lord had come into his kingdom. He was beheaded by Herod Agrippa around the year 44, and was the first of the apostles to die a martyr. Saint James, pray for us, and for the Church in Spain!