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The Earl of Birkenhead, F.E. Smith, who was contemporary with Winston Churchill, was a lawyer, and he once had a judge tell him, “I have read your case Mr. Smith, and I am no wiser now than I was when I started.” Smith replied, “Perhaps not, my Lord, but far better informed.” I too, will settle for all of us to at least be better informed, and if wisdom does come, it is the Holy Spirit at work. Underneath the title of Our Lady of Martyrs heading, in the newsletter, I have put in the phrase, Recusare mortis culturam — Latin, of course, but I was trying to come up with a phrase that might give a sense of what this is all about. It means “to refuse the culture of death.” I have even heard radio talk guys recently talk of the culture of death, without any acknowledgement of where the phrase came from, Pope John Paul II, who spoke the phrase in 1993 in Denver. It is where, I hope and pray, we can agree … and I tell those who are not Catholic, that there is much more we agree on than disagree. We can agree on a culture that does no harm to the sanctity of life, where we know that true Christian morality is to support life from conception to natural death, to decry the growing call for euthanasia, and to lead lives as best we can into what are called the works of mercy. We try to help feed, clothe, and provide shelter to those in need; we counsel and instruct those who doubt and those who don’t know the faith. We forgive offenses; we bear wrongs patiently and pray for the living and the dead. We fall short, we strive, we agonize, but we know that our culture, our society will live; when together we all can proclaim that God is the author of life. Our second Evensong according to the book of Divine Worship, which has been fully vetted by the Church in Rome, is an offer for all of us to explore and help each other understand what it means to know that much more unites us rather than divides us, and how we may act out that in service to God, and to each other, with the Holy Spirit ever guiding us.
The Holy Spirit guided Martin of Tours, a convert in the 300’s, when Christianity, was still a minority religion. He was a convert, and taught and preached the faith in the face of the pagan religions, and of those who distorted the Christian faith. He also served for a time as a soldier; and from the name of the priest who cared for a part of his military cloak that he gave to a beggar, that we derive the word chaplain. And it also fitting that on this day we also honor those who have served and sacrificed for our country, that our nation and peoples, under God, might always be free to worship for his glory and for the betterment of all people.
And that is how James begins his Epistle; he proclaims he is a servant of God and the Lord Jesus Christ. We too, are servants, we come from varied backgrounds, we are Catholic, we are from ecclesial communities not yet in full communion, perhaps we are seeking an entrée to faith; we are servants in service, seeking the best and truest way. Maybe we can only guess, maybe we are not sure, maybe we know we are called to something and we are trying to find out what, and why.
After James’s greeting, it seems he dives right in to the root of the matter: count it all joy, when you meet various trials … for that testing produces steadfastness. Who among us has not had trials and tests of faith, of life? Each of our stories is different, but I imagine that not always has the result of such trials been steadfastness. Maybe we have felt like waves of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind and maybe we have felt lowly. But James reminds us to ask in faith, imperfect though it may be, and we will be blessed, for when we have stood the test we will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. One of the early Church Fathers, Clement of Alexandria, at the end of the first century, had to wrestle with that hinge point of faith that every person of faith wrestles with at some point or another. He taught that the crucifixion shows how God deals with evil, not preventing it from occurring, but bringing good out of evil (Chadwick). I am so grateful to God and to our Lord Jesus Christ for the chance to be here in this capacity; yet I too had to wrestle with trials and with being steadfast. And I have loved Jesus through it all, and as James has said, it turns out there is nothing I have lacked. Oh, I needed a spiritual 2 by 4 bonk on the head every now and then, and James had a more subtle way of expressing the same thought, when he said, “if any of you lack wisdom … ask God, who gives to all … generously and without reproaching, and it will be given him.” The prophet Joel reminds us, in the first two verses of our reading, “Fear not,” he is announcing salvation is coming, and it will be final reversal of all things. Thousands of years later, Pope John Paul II often said, “Do not be afraid,” and each generation needs that divine and supernatural reminder. I do not know where our Evensong will lead us; I do not know when we all may sacramentally gather at the altar of heaven on earth, and I am tempted to fret, and how is it our readings tonight speak so poignantly to the heart: fear not. But the Holy Spirit is working in tangible ways. Five Church of England bishops announced this week that they have resigned their offices, and seek to become part of the Ordinariate in England when it is formed. And when the cardinals meet in Rome next week for the consistory, they will be briefed by Cardinal Levada, head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, on the Pope Benedict’s Anglican Constitution. May we pray there be further fruits of the Holy Spirit in the coming months, not only in England, but for the ordinariate here in the United States.
The spirit of this age, this culture is, as James said, deeply tempted and lured and enticed by its own desires. With all my heart, I pray that the culture of life be the spirit of God at work in all who believe. And somehow, in some way, may the patrimony of this Anglican Use worship tonight, and the blessing of our Lord Jesus Christ, in Benediction, encourage us all, so that we may all be one. To paraphrase Joel, may we know that our Lord is in our midst, which he is, and that He is the Lord our God, and there is none else.
REFLECTIONS ON OUR FIRST EVENSONG AND BENEDICTION
What an amazing inaugural Evensong and Benediction for the new Our Lady of Martyrs Anglican Use Nashville! We had about 65 people of all ages attend, including five Dominican sisters from the St. Cecilia Motherhouse. Fr. Jim Guill of St. Andrews Anglican Parish, Nashville, and Fr. Tom Cairns, Canon to Archbishop Hepworth of the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC), assisted me during the service held at The Church of the Assumption in Nashville.
The men's Schola of Assumption Church sounded wonderful as they led us through the psalms and canticles. Albennia Ladieu, organist, who has a 1940 and 1982 hymnal in her loft, played hymns I have not heard in many years. We processed in to “Faith of our Fathers,” a hymn written by Fr. Faber (of the London Oratory and contemporary of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman), including the third verse, where we sing: “Mary's prayers shall win all nations unto Thee; and through the truth that comes from God, mankind shall then be truly free.” Other hymns included “All Praise to Thee, My God This Night,” “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night,” and one of my favorites, “The Day Thou Gavest” (St. Clement). Indeed, a (formerly long-time Episcopalian who converted some years ago), told me he was crying by the end of the service, as he hadn't heard the hymns and chant in many years. Another more recent convert to the Catholic Church (from the Episcopal Church), told me he got choked up when, at the end of Evensong, we all recited The General Thanksgiving, and I then went to the tabernacle to get the Blessed Sacrament. Jesus in our midst during reverent worship. Truly we were worshiping in the beauty of holiness.
There were Episcopalians, Anglicans, and Catholics all present, and many of those Catholics were formerly Anglican of one flavor or another. It is actually quite amazing the number of former Episcopalians I am meeting now, as a Catholic priest. It just shows how potent and vital is the truth of our Lord and Savior, and how it attracts our “separated brethren.” But, out of the “bare, ruined choirs,” as they say, come the fruits of the Holy Spirit and the incredible gift from our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, and the Anglican Constitution.
There was also another Pastoral Provision priest present who was busy taking notes; he is exploring Anglican Use in his diocese. More fruits of the Holy Spirit.
I have been told that several Catholic priests, some additional Dominican sisters and lay people plan on attending next month.
There were times when I had to pinch myself that all this is actually happening. I am an unworthy servant, and like Pooh bear, of small brain, but Our Lady of Martyrs Anglican Use is up and running and we shall go where the Lord our God tells us. It was an auspicious, moving, exciting and joyous evening. I thank God for everyone who helped and for those who came. We will announce our next Evensong in just a few days. Keep watching this website.
May God keep watch over each of us this day.
Faithfully, in Christ,
Fr. Prentice Dean
To Fr. Jim Guill, and Canon Tom, gathered here, To Catholic, Anglican and those curious, welcome. Bishop Choby did express interest in this evening, but because of health reasons, he is not able to be here. Frs. Gideon and Baker also send their regrets … they wanted to come but had prior commitments.
The story goes that sometime during the reign of Pope Pius IX, three Anglican clergymen went to Rome and received a Papal blessing with which they were apparently very pleased. It was: “Benedicaris ab illo in cuius honore cremaberis. Amen.” What they apparently didn't know was that this is the blessing used for putting on of incense, which in English is: “May you be blessed by Him in whose honor you are to be burned.” I think we have moved on since that time.
There was a time, certainly in the span of the lifetime of my grandparents, when it took days to reach Europe. Now, by air, we are about 10 hours from the Gulf of Patras, off the coast of western Greece. And today, through the internet we can be virtually anywhere anytime. No longer does it take days, or weeks for news to travel. It was in that gulf in 1571, on this day, when the Holy League navy defeated the Ottoman Turks. Because of the victory, the Christian forces prevented a possible occupation of Europe, and especially of Rome. Pope St. Pius V attributed the victory to the recitation of the Holy Rosary by much of Europe.
Forces of darkness are still outside our proverbial gates, but now we can see it live, unfiltered by a skewed medium. It is much easier today to be better informed, to react more quickly, and yet, we still need the intercession of our Blessed Mother. She has appeared to us and to the world in our hour of need, when we least expected it, and if it wasn't for the rosary I don't know if I would be standing here. It was in my last, my one and only Episcopal parish that I sat, each afternoon, reciting the rosary, trying to figure out what to do next. It was only a few years after the fateful days in the fall of 2003, and I knew my Anglican time was drawing to a close. It was our lady who helped lead me further and deeper to her Son, who promised me it would be alright. For one of the few times in my life, I took a complete leap of pure faith, once I knew my conscience could not allow me to stay where I was and I had to, for the salvation of my soul, to enter into that fullness of the faith in the Catholic Church. The daily missal says, for this memorial, “She brought our savior into the world; and she will bring us to him if we are devoted to her.” And so, I could do no other, but invoke her name in our fledgling endeavor and to inaugurate Anglican Use on the day of Our Lady of the Rosary. Our Lady of Martyrs is taken from the Litany of Loretto, and it seems so appropriate, so right, to remember the martyrs of the faith, not just those who climbed the scaffolding at Tyburn, or the Tower of London, but in every corner of the world; Japan, China, Vietnam, North and South America, Iraq, Turkey, Europe, Africa; there are too many countries to mention from the past; there are still too many to mention this very day.
I will try to only make mention of one more aspect of my conversion. Five years ago, as I read over and over the High Priestly prayer of Jesus, in John's gospel, it was that phrase (that we heard tonight) that so caught me up short. “That they may all be one …” I quoted it my resignation letter 5 years ago, and have repeated it often since then. God did not want me to join, or start one more breakaway church; there has been one Church for 2,000 years and when all is said and done, Jesus wanted me, and my wife, to be with the one Church, and not merely part of one of the many.
Except for the gospel reading, the scheduled readings for Evening Prayer, according to the Book of Divine Worship remain the same. Micah, a contemporary of Isaiah, was one of the many prophets calling Israel to return from its loss of direction, sense of purpose and Godly imprint. Five or six years ago I might take heart in the message, with absolutely no sense of irony, and call my separated denomination back to … back to … back to something, but certainly not to where it all started. But now, tonight, I pray that the line from our reading offers hope to any and all separated brethren, “In the days to come the mount of the Lord's house ... shall rise high … and peoples shall stream to it … and we will walk in the name of the Lord, our God, forever and ever.”
And Paul, defending himself as much from his acquaintances as from so-called enemies, tells the governor, “I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward man … and I came to bring to my nation alms and offerings.” That is what Anglican Use is, in the plan of divine providence: it is an alm and offering from our Holy Father, from the chair of St. Peter, to return to Mother Church, and you can bring your patrimony of liturgy and hymnody with you.
And I would add something I did not realize till only a few days ago. You no longer have to swim the proverbial Tiber River, now that I know that Canterbury Cathedral and the Vatican are on the same side of the Tiber River. It is even easier than I thought.
With all my heart I say that Our Lady of Martyrs is serious, and earnest in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, in the fullness of the faith and in all truth. If you have been watching the internet blogs about how some Anglicans are reacting to Anglicanorum Coetibus, so many seem to say, “Yes, that is all very good, but …,” and then there is a laundry list of things that are wrong, or need to be fixed first, or whatever … and I start to get an ice-cream headache …
What our Holy Father has proffered is nothing short of astounding … it is, and will be, the model for the diaspora of all Christians who know that the truth cannot be redefined by each new generation; that scripture was not intended to be read through the prism of 10, or 20,000 or more, denominations; that there is a heaven and a hell; that the devil is prowling about seeking the destruction of souls; that it is as plain as the nose on our faces that the culture of death and relativism, and of secularism, is propelling all so-called civilized societies and nations into being constant adversaries of faith and of truth. And at the same time, it is the Holy Spirit that is enervating the Catholic Church to lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.
How else can I explain except that of the Holy Spirit, that it was on October 9th, 2003, when, then, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger sent a message to bishops, priests and laypeople of the Episcopal Church, at a certain meeting in Plano Texas. He said, in part, “The significance of your meeting is sensed far beyond Plano, and even in this City from which Saint Augustine of Canterbury was sent to confirm and strengthen the preaching of Christ's Gospel in England. Nor can I fail to recall that barely 120 years later, Saint Boniface brought that same Christian faith from England to my own forebears in Germany. The lives of these saints show us how in the Church of Christ there is a unity in truth and a communion of grace which transcend the borders of any nation. With this in mind, I pray in particular that God's will may be done by all those who seek that unity in the truth, the gift of Christ himself. With fraternal regards, I remain, Sincerely yours in Christ.”
And, in in two days, again on the 9th, is the first feast day of Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman, the day of his conversion. Things are happening, there are new Anglican Use groups coming into being. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has directed a committee of the US Conference be established to help with the implementation of the Anglican Constitution.
October 19th, (quite a month in history), is the anniversary of when, legend has it, on the victorious battleground of Yorktown, in 1781, as the defeated British Army walked between the ranks of American and French soldiers, they played a tune with the title, “The World Turned Upside Down.” Apocryphal or not, to all those in the “protesting-tant” Churches, that through the open arms of the Catholic Church, and Anglican Use, the world has indeed seemed to have turned upside down. The lines have been drawn, and they all point to the truth. And may we all, from this day forward, worship in the beauty of holiness. Amen.