Hiding Your Light

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” -Matthew 5:14-16

Often times in the Independent or Old Catholic Movement, our very existence and or simple presence is the heart of our ministry. It’s not a ministry meant to dazzle, nor one that makes lots of money, nor one that gathers lots of people in the pews, nor even one that usually engenders respect or acceptance. No, it more likely than not, doesn’t accomplish these things. It almost always isn’t a ministry where one can tout great success or even show much accomplishment at all, in worldly standards that is.

However, showing the world that there’s “another way to be catholic” is the kind of ministry of presence that can empower people and give them hope and courage in a world where the current religious climate can often be hostile or worse yet, abusive, and that’s exactly the kind of ministry we are most often called to.

Nelson Mandela said it well: “And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

When we were baptized and confirmed, and later perhaps ordained and or consecrated, we were charged with sharing the light of the Gospel message, a message of faith, hope, and love, in this dark and broken world. We were charged to do our best to carry that light to the dark corners of our society, to the dark corners of our hearts, and to help others to find their way.

It isn’t always comfortable, it isn’t always safe, and it most certainly isn’t good for “business as usual” but it is necessary, if we are to be true to our calling and faithful to our Lord. It’s the cross we are called to, it’s the cross we carry, it’s the cross of sacrifice, and it always calls for sacrifice.

The paradox is that, it is in the very act of sacrifice that we find abundance! It is in that experience of dying to ourselves and living for others, that we find life! And it is in the simple ministry of presence, that simple sacrifice of being who God made us to be, that we find love, bravery, and power, power to change lives and to change the world.

Our presence, or lack there of, speaks volumes to those around us. We may never know who’s life we might touch and change, but we will change lives, one way or the other, for the better or for the worse.

What kind of ministry of presence are you offering in your life, or are you hiding your light under a basket? Do you stand in the darkness and let your light shine for all to see or have you hid it for fear of drawing attention to your faith and or out of the fear of the sacrifice that might be demanded of you because of your faith?

A modern musical artist, Jewel Kilcher, wrote a song entitled “Life Uncommon” that speaks to freedom, love, bravery, and courage to be part of the solution and not part of the problem by no longer giving strength to those things which we wish to be free from, by virtue of our silence. It was a great success on the pop charts for quite a while. Here are the lyrics:

“Life Uncommon”
By Jewel Kilcher

Don’t worry mother, it’ll be alright,
And don’t worry sister,
Say your prayers and sleep tight,
It’ll be fine lover of mine,
It’ll be just fine.

Lend your voices only to sounds of freedom,
No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from,
Fill your lives with love and bravery,
And you shall lead a life uncommon.

I’ve heard your anguish,
I’ve heard your hearts cry out,
We are tired, we are weary, but we aren’t worn out,
Set down your chains, ’til only faith remains,
Set down your chains.

And lend your voices only to sounds of freedom,
No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from,
Fill your lives with love and bravery,
And you shall lead a life uncommon.

There are plenty of people who pray for peace,
But if praying were enough it would have come to be,
Let your lips enslave no one,
And the heavens will hush themselves to hear,
Our voices ring out clear with sounds of freedom, sounds of freedom.

Come on you unbelievers,
Move out of the way,
There is a new army coming,
And we are armed with faith,
To live, we must give, To live.

And lend our voices only to sounds of freedom,
No longer lend our strength to that which we with to be free from,
Fill your lives with love and bravery,
And we shall lead…

Lend our voices only to sounds of freedom,
No longer lend our strength to that which we with to be free from,
Fill your lives with love and bravery,
And we shall lead a life uncommon.

When we hide our light or mute our voice, our ministry of presence fades and we actively give way to the darkness. It is in that moment where we indeed lend our strength to that which we wish to be free from, that which oppresses us, and oppresses others. When we hide our light we enable the darkness to exist and to take over where we’ve failed to let the liberating light of the Gospel blaze – due to our own insecurities and or our own fears.

Our ministry of presence, while sometimes seemingly inactive or even insignificant, is amazingly empowering and encouraging. Just letting the world see us for who and what we are, and what we are about, lets our light shine brightly, and that light can illumine the darkest of places throughout the world and the darkest moments deep in our own souls.

Who will be that ministry of presence in the world or in your community? If not you, then who? If now now, then when? When it’s convenient? Sacrifice is never convenient. No longer lend your strength to that which you wish to be free from by being silent or by hiding your light under the proverbial basket. Set down your chains until only faith remains and you will lead a life uncommon!

Here I am Lord, send me.

Amen!

Homily for the Third Sunday After the Epiphany


“Warts and All” By Abbot-Bishop Brian E. Brown, OSH

Third Sunday After the Epiphany Year B
Jeremiah 3:21—4:2 Psalm 130 1 Corinthians 7:17-23 Mark 1:14-20

I would like to ask you a question that perhaps we all already know the answer to but first let’s set the stage.

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…

The alarm goes off and you wake up bleary eyed and weary. Surely it’s not time to get up just yet! Didn’t you just close your eyes only an hour to two ago? How could it be? But there it is, that annoying alarm with the shrill, grating buzzing that you hear every morning. Someday you’re gonna get rid of the thing but out of reflex you reach over and slap the snooze button. Laying back down and snuggling in you drift off with the certainty that you’re going to have to get up soon, but maybe just not right now. Please, just not right now…

Beep, beep, beep, beep, beep, beep…

Huh? What? Oh, the alarm again. Okay, okay, okay! You sit up and turn the darn thing off and you sit there. It’s time to get up and get on with things. So much to do and you’re on a schedule. You’re always on a schedule. You sit there, scratch, rub, stretch, and breathe life back into your body and bracing yourself you get up.

After a quick routine your off to work. So far your morning is going along like any other; like every other morning has for the last several years. You get in your car and drive to work, noticing the same workmen working on the same stretch of road that they’ve been working on for the last 6 months, noticing some of the same kind of traffic you’ve seen before, the kids waiving to you from the back seat of the minivan in front, the young lady fixing her make-up in the rear view mirror of the car behind you and a man in the Lexus speaking rather animatedly into the cell phone off to your right. You hear the thump of the base in some other car around you who has their custom stereo turned up way too high. Every day it’s pretty much the same thing or at least some version there of but there’s some comfort in the sameness of it all.

You make it to work, find some caffeine, and settle in for the day. You’ve got so many things to do, some left over work from yesterday, a lunch meeting, a deadline or two and some preparation for the big project coming up. You get to it and that’s life.

It’s been like that for a while. Not bad, but comfortable in the sameness it offers day in and day out. It’s what you know and what your comfortable with.

When all of a sudden up walks a guy and he says, “Hey come on, let’s get out of here! The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news. Come with me and I’ll teach you how to make your efforts really work towards drawing people in!

What? Huh? Excuse me? Wasn’t this the guy you saw walking down the highway the other day heading into town? Didn’t you figure him for a homeless person or at least someone who was down on his luck? Was he perhaps an Amway salesmen or something? Do I need to call security?

Now be honest and answer this question, would you lay down your work get up, walk out, and follow this guy?

Yeah, sad to say, me neither and I’m into that kind of thing!

Can you imagine the Spirit and authority that had to have emanated from Jesus to encourage these fishermen to lay down their nets, their livelihood, and follow Him? To walk away from all that they had known, and in the case of James and John, to leave their very father, no doubt elderly, in the boat with the hired help and just walk away, just like that? Well, if we are to believe the Gospel, that is exactly what happened.

When Jesus comes into our lives and calls to us, He seldom does so with fore-warning and he almost never gives us the whole picture of what He has in store for us to do. He comes into our lives and simply says, come on, follow me, I have something for you to do. Let’s go.

Here’s the catch. We have a choice and sadly our choice often leads to an excuse…

I’m not ready just yet. Let me work on things, clear my schedule, and get ready and I’ll get back to you; or, I’m not qualified. I’m just a glassblower not a preacher; or, I’m not the right one. Isn’t Bill a better fit than me for what you have in mind? I think you’ve got the wrong person. After all, he has experience in that sort of thing; or, I don’t know enough, really I don’t. I don’t have a degree nor did I even go to seminary; or, I don’t believe. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I’m spiritual alright, I’m just not religious and I don’t like organized religion; or, I’m not feeling well. I’ve got some health issues so let me take time to heal up and I’ll be right with you or you can heal me right now and I’ll have the energy and stamina to work with you; or, I’m too busy. I have responsibilities you know, and I don’t have enough money as it is. Help me win the lottery and then I’ll have the money and time to do what you want me to do. We can be so creative and our excuses can go on and on…

The letter to the Corinthians deals rather pointedly with our excuses and we’re encouraged that whatever condition we find ourselves in, in this life, this is just where Jesus needs us to be and He can use us right then and there. “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called. ”

You see when Jesus calls to us, He already knows our state of being, our fears, our concerns, our self-image or lack there of, our education, our understanding, our abilities, our predilections, our preferences, our needs, our responsibilities, our spirituality, and of course our hearts. He already knows all of these things and still He calls us – in spite of it all. He must have a reason. Well, He does.

You see, Jesus wants to bless us by pouring out grace upon us – the grace that empowers our lives filling us with love, courage, and strength to do what He has called us to do, a work uncommon, to reach out to others who are in need, to strengthen the fainthearted, to support the weak, and to help the suffering. He wants to show us that He can work miracles in our lives in spite of our condition or state of grace. To borrow a phrase, He wants us to be all that we can be, all He knows we can be.

He also wants us to do the work that He cannot do, to continue His ministry in this world. He wants us to be His body made manifest here on earth. He wants us to offer our hands, as we are His hands, in order to lift up our brothers and sisters. He wants us to use our arms, as we are His arms, to hold those who are hurting and afraid. He wants us to use our strength, which flows from Him, to help carry others weights making their burdens lighter and their lives a little easier. He wants us to use our eyes to look with love upon everyone and everything and to reflect His love in this broken world. He wants us to use our ears to hear the cries of the wounded and brokenhearted, listening to their sorrow and their problems and our mouths with which to speak his healing and unconditional love, to those who would listen.

Jesus knows that there are people in our lives or perhaps just around the corner that we can reach, right here, right now. These are people in need, with whom we are uniquely qualified to reach out to, because of our unique life experiences, because of who we are, because of what we may know, and because of where we are at any given moment. In whatever condition you are in at the time of His calling you can rest assured that He needs you just the way you are, warts and all.

He needs us all just the way we are and He needs us right now. The world is hurting and in need of hope. Won’t you lay down your nets like the Apostles of old and follow Him. He has work for you and I to do and He’s counting on us.

Amen!

The Easter Resurrection: Grace Spilling Over

“Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom; and the earth quaked, and the rocks were split, and the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised; and coming out of the graves after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” Matthew 27:51-53

We’ve all heard the Easter story many, many times. We’ve heard it told at least every Easter throughout our childhood and hopefully if we’ve been faithful attendees at church we’ve also heard it on into our adulthood. We’ve heard it so many times that, dare I ask, has the story has become less inspiring and awe-filled and simply repetitive and sadly maybe a little more mundane to us? Or am I wrong and we’re all moved to tears every time the crowd yells, “crucify him” as the Passion narrative is re-enacted?

I myself am moved to tears and near speechlessness during the Passion narrative year after year but even so, I am left with the question that I imagine haunted the minds of the apostles and friends of Jesus, the question of “okay, what now?”

I have a sterling silver cross I crafted many, many years ago while in college that I call, “The Dancing Jesus” and I think this image is part of the answer to the question of “okay, what now.” Unlike so many other representations, the crucifix pendant I crafted is somewhat abstract and demonstrative rather than a creation of representational realism. Christ’s body forms the cross in an almost sensual way and if one looks hard enough one can see life, movement, triumph, and celebration within this small silver interpretation of the crucifixion, an interpretation I call “The Dancing Jesus.”

The inspiration for the pendant came after reading a passage from the Gospel of St. Matthew 27:51-53. Never before had I realized that others were resurrected during that time! How had I missed that? Well, as it turns out many of us have missed that little fact all of our Christian lives. Wow!

The vision I was given was one of dance, of celebration, of triumph, of empowerment, and of love. It was as if a light, unable to be contained, spilled out of the darkness and brought light to the dark corners of the world, to the darkest corners of our souls. In the moment of Christ’s death, overpowering grace spilled out upon the entirety of creation and changed the whole world. The joy and permeating grace couldn’t be contained and it seeped into the depths of rock and soil and transformed or re-created men and women long dead, raising their bodies from the earth and empowering them to go out and proclaim the Good News – the earth shattering, death defeating, empowering love of God: Christ is risen!

While it is important to recognize our own sinfulness and need for grace during this time of the church year let us not stop there, soaking up grace and reveling in our own individual salvation. Let us not neglect the empowerment that is offered to us as Christians to “raise the dead” in celebration and remembrance of what Christ has done for us, indeed for the entire world!

Nelson Mandela said, “And as we let our own lights shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

That is the meaning of Easter! That is the empowerment that Christ offers each one of us! That is what we are called to do by virtue of His crucifixion, death, resurrection, and ascension! As Christians we are called to love fiercely and sacrificially, we are called to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth, we are called to baptize, and we are called to empower others to do the same. That’s what Christ did for us and is still doing!

I invite you to do the same this Easter season. May the overpowering grace of this Easter Resurrection pour over you and forever change your life! May Christ illumine the darkest corners of your soul and shine through your life in this broken world and may you go out and change the world for the love of God! Let your light shine so that you may empower others even as you have been empowered by the Light of the World.

Blessings upon you and yours this Resurrection Day!

Amen!

Rules of Engagement

May Saint Isidore of Seville guide us as we surf the internet.

As our world becomes more complex and new ways of communicating happen along we need to try to keep in mind that there are real flesh and blood people on the other end of the internet with whom we are trying to engage. It’s a challenge to translate our new modes of communication into our old understanding and often something is lost in the translation.

Several years ago I put together a list of “ground rules” to help us communicate on various church egroups et cetera. While it was developed to help our interaction in an egroup or elist setting, this list of “rules” is a great thing to keep in mind when you’re trying to communicate with another child of God in cyberspace. This is certainly not my wisdom but the wisdom of saints and wise men, both past and present.

Here are the ground rules I gathered together. I hope this helpful to you in some small way as you navigate cyberspace developing and deepening relationships with other children of God:


1. Our guiding rule as we post:

“Let the tongue have it’s rein firmly in the heart.” –St. Columbanus

2. A good thing to remember when companioning our brothers and sisters:

“Oppression is not only evil, it is blasphemous because it makes a child of God doubt that s/he is a child of God.” –Archbishop Desmond Tutu

3. A good thing to practice with our brothers and sisters during disagreement:

“He [the monk] should not speak evil of, or harshly reproach, another, nor should he put anyone to the blush. Never should he violently rebuke anyone or carry on a conversation with a boorish person, and his speech at all times should be noted for its lack of boastfulness.” –Monastic rule of St. Ailbe

4. When we take ourselves too seriously remember:

“Pious humbug is an invention of the devil.” –St. Comgal

5. When you’re feeling a little full of yourself and tempted to speak down to a companion think on this:

“Do not ever think yourselves better than the rest of your companions who share the same faith.” –St. Cuthbert

6. When someone new comes to the list seeking fellowship keep in mind:

“Do not despise those faithful who come to you seeking hospitality. Receive them, put them up, and set them on their way with kindness, treating them as one of yourselves.” –St. Cuthbert

7. In the haste of irritation be mindful of your free will and your choice of posts:

“The freedom to choose makes us like God: if we choose evil, that freedom becomes a curse;if we choose good, it becomes our greatest blessing.” –Pelagius

8. And when you interact try your best to see Christ present in the other person:

“See in each herb and small animal, every bird and beast, and in each man and woman, the eternal Word of God.” –St. Ninian

The Seal of Confession

The Seal of Confession
By Abbot-Bishop Brian E. Brown, OSH

confessionConfession is such a spiritually important and often over looked and misunderstood sacrament of the Church. And while I’d agree that most of the traditional seven sacraments are misunderstood and often overlooked it has been my experience as a priest that the Sacrament of Confession tops such a list.

A friend and mentor of mine once said,”you can pay $100 for a visit to a psychologist or for a nickle in the collection plate you can get the counsel of a priest, confession, forgiveness and reconciliation. While my mentor was not trying impugn psychologists in any way nor was he trying to sell the sacrament of a nickle, he was in fact making a rather astute if not cute observation. That for the Cure of our Souls we need turn only to the the Sacraments of the Church and God’s infinite love and confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation are a constant requirement to live a balanced and grace-filled Christian life.

Enter the priest.

It is through the priest that the penitent comes seeking understanding, counsel, guidance, and ultimately forgiveness for the sin in his or her life. It is through the priest and the Sacrament of Confession that a penitent’s sins are absolved by God. This is one of the sacred acts that sets us apart from the Protestant church and this relationship between priest and penitent must be held to the highest standard and strictest confidence. When a priest violates this sacrament, violates the Seal of Confession, he or she throws away his or her priesthood, by breaking sacred vows, and by breaking the intimate trust placed in him or her by the penitent. What would the world of the church be like if the Seal of Confession was simply a quaint custom and the confessor free to spread around shared confidences as he or she saw fit? Who would ever trust such an irresponsible and heartless “priest” with anything again? No one would of course and the Sacrament of Confession would be useless, and the offending cleric’s priesthood simply make-believe.

One of the older catechisms taught that the lowest level in hell was reserved for the priest who broke the Seal of Confession and I believe this to be so. I hold the Seal of the Confession inviolable and I hold the priests under my episcopal protection subject to do the same as should all bishops and priests of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic faith.

Let’s see what the catholic encyclopedia has to say about the subject…

From New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia

Seal of Confession

Regarding the sins revealed to him in sacramental confession, the priest is bound to inviolable secrecy. From this obligation he cannot be excused either to save his own life or good name, to save the life of another, to further the ends of human justice, or to avert any public calamity. No law can compel him to divulge the sins confessed to him, or any oath which he takes — e.g., as a witness in court. He cannot reveal them either directly — i.e., by repeating them in so many words — or indirectly — i.e., by any sign or action, or by giving information based on what he knows through confession. The only possible release from the obligation of secrecy is the permission to speak of the sins given freely and formally by the penitent himself. Without such permission, the violation of the seal of confession would not only be a grievous sin, but also a sacrilege. It would be contrary to the natural law because it would be an abuse of the penitent’s confidence and an injury, very serious perhaps, to his reputation. It would also violate the Divine law, which, while imposing the obligation to confess, likewise forbids the revelation of that which is confessed. That it would infringe ecclesiastical law is evident from the strict prohibition and the severe penalties enacted in this matter by the Church. “Let him beware of betraying the sinner by word or sign or in any other way whatsoever. . . we decree that he who dares to reveal a sin made known to him in the tribunal of penance shall not only be deposed from the priestly office, but shall moreover be subjected to close confinement in a monastery and the performance of perpetual penance” (Fourth Lateran Council, cap. xxi; Denzinger, “Enchir.”, 438). Furthermore, by a decree of the Holy Office (18 Nov., 1682), confessors are forbidden, even where there would be no revelation direct or indirect, to make any use of the knowledge obtained in confession that would displease the penitent, even though the non-use would occasion him greater displeasure.

These prohibitions, as well as the general obligation of secrecy, apply only to what the confessor learns through confession made as part of the sacrament. He is not bound by the seal as regards what may be told him by a person who, he is sure, has no intention of making a sacramental confession but merely speaks to him “in confidence”; prudence, however, may impose silence concerning what he learns in this way. Nor does the obligation of the seal prevent the confessor from speaking of things which he has learned outside confession, though the same things have also been told him in confession; here again, however, other reasons may oblige him to observe secrecy. The same obligation, with the limitations indicated, rests upon all those who in one way or another acquire a knowledge of what is said in confession, e.g., an interpreter who translates for the priest the words of the penitent, a person who either accidentally or intentionally overhears the confession, an ecclesiastical superior (e.g., a bishop) to whom the confessor applies for authorization to absolve the penitent from a reserved case. Even the penitent, according to some theologians, is bound to secrecy; but the more general opinion leaves him free; as he can authorize the confessor to speak of what he has confessed, he can also, of his own accord, speak to others. But he is obliged to take care that what he reveals shall cast no blame or suspicion on the confessor, since the latter cannot defend himself. In a word, it is more in keeping with the intention of the Church and with the reverence due to the sacrament that the penitent himself should refrain from speaking of his confession. Such, undoubtedly, was the motive that prompted St. Leo to condemn the practice of letting the penitent read in public a written statement of his sins (see above); and it needs scarcely be added that the Church, while recognizing the validity of public confession, by no means requires it; as the Council of Trent declares, it would be imprudent to prescribe such a confession by any human enactment. (For provisions of the civil law regarding this matter, see SEAL OF CONFESSION.)

Betrayal: That Cold-Hearted Kiss

judaskissI had written this last spring just after Holy Week and Easter. As we approach Saint Martin’s Lent I thought it appropriate to post. I hope you find it as illuminating reading it as I did writing it. Blessings upon your head, your heart, your home, and your own loved ones!

“Jesus was still speaking, when Judas the betrayer came up. He was one of the twelve disciples, and a large mob armed with swords and clubs was with him. They had been sent by the chief priests and the nation’s leaders. Judas had told them ahead of time, “Arrest the man I greet with a kiss.” Judas walked right up to Jesus and said, “Hello, teacher.” Then Judas kissed him.” -Matthew 26:47-49

Betrayal, ah that cold-hearted kiss.

This time of the year, Lent, Holy Week, and Easter, always makes us take a look at our lives or at least it does with me. I usually get somewhat introspective and hopefully a little intuitive during Lent often bringing home the message during Holy Week and Easter.

I often ask myself, “what has God been trying to teach me or show me this last year?” Sometimes I can recognize his hand at work in my life and get it but as likely sometimes I simply get in the way of myself and of God and I miss the point all together. The good news is that God is patient, the bad news is that God is patient and, as it were, when I don’t get it, I get to experience the lesson all over again, sometimes from the very start.

The People of God: Peace of Mind

The People of God
by Bishop Karl Pruter

Chapter XIV Peace of Mind

Several decades ago, Rabbi Liebmann wrote a book entitled Peace of Mind. Unintentionally he began a cult which enjoyed a great rage for over twenty years.

Americans had, at last, found a use for God. God was not some remote being in the heavens, but was the source of a most elusive quality of life, “Peace of Mind.”