Augustine: Sermon 272

January 23, 2012

Augustine’s Sermon 272 somehow gets assigned to me every Spring semester. Every spring it seems to mean more, and with every new year I find myself amazed at how God has taught me to understand these words in fresh ways after living another year. 

This is a snippet of my perennial favorite part for everyone else’s enjoyment: 

The reason these things, brothers and sisters, are called sacraments is that in them one thing is seen, another is to be understood. What can be seen has a bodily appearance, what is to be understood provides spiritual fruit. So if you want to understand the body of Christ, listen to the apostle telling the faithful, “You, though, are the body of Christ and its members” (1 Cor 12:27). So if it’s you that are the body of Christ and its members, it’s the mystery meaning you that has been placed on the Lord’s table; what you receive is the mystery that means you. It is to what you are that you reply “Amen,” and by so replying you express your assent. What you hear, you see, is “The body of Christ,” and you answer, “Amen.” So be a member of the body of Christ, in order to make that “Amen” true. 

-Augustine; Sermon 272, “On the day of pentecost, To the Infantes (baby Christians)
On the Sacrament

With Love,

What is it that I said to you, in the mirror, at Havana? Were you not perhaps the last one I saw as the steamer left, you standing on your tower with your back to the sea, looking at the university?

I have never forgotten you. You are more to me now than then, when I walked through the streets reciting (which I had just learned) the Memorare. I have forgotten all the things I have prayed for to you. I think I have received them, but I do not remember. More important I have received you.

Whom I know and yet do not know. Whom I love, but not enough.
Prayer is what you bring—for prayer is your gift to us rather than what you ask of us.

If only I could pray—and yet I can and do pray.

Teach me to go to this country beyond words and beyond names. Teach me not to pray on this side of the frontier, here where the woods are.

I need to be led by you. I need my heart to be moved by you. I need my soul to be made clean by your prayer. I need my will to be made strong by you. I need the world to be saved and changed by you. I need you for all those who suffer, who are in prison, in danger, in sorrow. I need you for all the crazy people. I need your healing hands to work always in my life. I need you to take me, as your Son a healer, a comforter, a savior. I need you to name the dead. I need you to help the dying cross their particular river. I need you for myself whether I life or die. I need to be your monk and your son. It is necessary. Amen.

-Thomas Merton (found in Thoughts in Solitude and in The Intimate Merton)

By and large, the Advent season and Christmastide are heavily Marian. I have no complaints about this. I’m a Marian devotee and rosary collector through and through. So I would like to think that her intercession, along with the grace of her Son, who happens to be God, that should be credited with my growing devotion to her most saintly spouse, St. Joseph. Ever since preaching on St. Joseph for my ordination sermon a few years ago, I can’t shake a burgeoning devotion to him.

Enter: the Feast of St. Andre Bissette, a brother of The Holy Cross (cheers to my favorite order), and a devotee of St. Joseph. St. Andre’s greatest virtues mirror that of his patron, Joseph– obedience and obscurity-especially in the face of burdens, pain, and frustration. When people asked St. Andre for help, the ‘miracle man of St. Royale’ never pointed to himself, but to Christ and to the intercession of St. Joseph. I suspect it would have been easy for Saint Andre to let the miracles and healings “raise him in the ranks” of the world. Not only credited with miracles and healings, St. Andre raised the funds and supervised the building of the Oratory of St. Joseph, the largest shrine to Joseph in the world. Not too shabby. Clearly he lacked no charisma or force of character. Which makes his self-imposed holy obscurity all the more impressive, but what else would we expect from a man devoted to St. Joseph?

St. Joseph’s story, or the very little of it contained in scripture, points not at all to him, but to his blessed wife and especially towards his foster Son. Joseph is a good man, not immaculately conceived and not the rose of Sharon. Joseph isn’t translated into heaven or assumed or even wheeled away in a golden chariot. There’s no proto-evangelium of James to tout Joseph’s awesome family. Nope. Joseph is a good man, in the Genesis 1 sense of the world good. If all generations call Mary blessed, they might equally call Joseph good. Joseph hears God’s call. Joseph does what God says. Rinse and repeat as long as is necessary to raise the Son of God. Pretty normal, excepting the part that he’s God’s foster-father, not just any foster-father.

Not many of us are called to be Marys, I suspect. Most people aren’t immaculately conceived. Most of us are ordinary, plain, and obscure. If it weren’t for twitter and blogs we couldn’t even delude ourselves into thinking the world really cared about our thoughts and opinions. Our greatest deeds rank on the lists of simple and ordinary goodnesses. We’re not the “ring bearers,” to use a nerdy Lord of the Rings reference. We are the gardeners in Hobbiton. But the ordinaries have a part to play too we bear of our holy friends. We can’t carry their special holy deeds for them, but we can carry them. Through our prayers with the prayers of the saints, we lift others up to claim their vocations in God. Through our care and compassion, we help our friends who labor to bring Christ into their lives. Through our love, we build a home for Christ and his servants in the spaces of our own lives. Not too shabby for a bunch of obscure simple folks.

Were it not for St. Joseph, a good man and for St. Andre, his devotee, it might be easy to look at superstars of the faith and say, “pin a rose on your nose,” before going our merry way. We may not all be the shining stars of faith like Mary or the great patriarchs and matriarchs in Hebrews 11, reflecting the brilliance of the Son with in your face virtue and grace. That’s the beauty of St. Joseph and the ordinary grace to which we are all called. Some of us embrace our God-given identity along with the St. Josephs and brother Andres of the world who live in the painfully obscure light of God with all the obedience and goodness God helps us muster.

After all, Mary wouldn’t have got very far without St. Joseph.
St. André and St. Joseph, pray for us.

A Hermit’s Soup

January 1, 2012

First: a host of happy holiday greetings, friends! Happy solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God, a very happy eighth day of  Christmastide, and happy secular new year! Sorry if that last one sounds a bit odd, but this is a liturgy blog, and I most unfortunately am a “scary liturgical terrorist” so I feel like I should stick to the liturgical year and we’re a month in at this point. So wishing you happy “new year” didn’t seem right. Anyway- take you pick of which day you’re celebrating, and I hope it’s a very happy one and that you’re all very blessed in 2012!

My parents gave me this awesome cook book for Christmas:

I tried one of the winter soups tonight, “A Hermit’s Soup.” It’s pretty basic, but delicious! so I thought it’d share. I made mine a little differently, so I’ll give you the real recipe and then tell you how I made mine so you can enjoy your own on some cold night, if you’d like! I’ll also tell you that it pairs very well with fresh sour dough bread. I didn’t try it, but I imagine it would go well with a nice red wine, if you’re not home alone or not actually trying to be austere and if you like a good Chianti.

A Hermit’s Soup: 
1 potato
1 turnip
half a small cabbage
2 carrots
1 onion
3 Tbsp. oil of choice
1/3 cup rice
2 qts. water
salt and a pinch of thyme to taste.
Wash and trim vegetables. Cut and slice them into tiny pieces.
Pour oil in a soup pot, add vegetables, and sauté for a few minutes Add rice and water, stirring well. Cook over low heat for one hour. Add salt and thyme just before serving. Stir well and serve hot.

I made several adjustments, but it still worked. Which is good, because it means the real thing must be amazing. All the grocery store had were huge cabbages, so I used only 1/4 of the cabbage. So I can try my next soup which also calls for cabbage and not even need to buy another head of cabbage! Yay frugality! I don’t like turnips so I left those out, and I didn’t have rice on hand so I left that out as well. Also, since I exercised a lot today and am trying to take better care of myself I added beef broth, instead of water, for extra protein. IT WAS DELICIOUS. I’m going to try to stop by the grocery store tomorrow and pick up some rice, which I’m sure will only improve the taste. I may also try adding just a few pieces of stew beef (again, protein. We don’t want any hermits with eating disorders!). If you like veggies and a good hot soup, this one’s for you!

Much Love for the New Year,

Let me say from the beginning that I fully understand and am aware of all the liturgical, historical, and translation reasons that memorial acclamation 1, “Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again” was removed from the soon to be current translation of the Roman Missal. I’m a liturgical purist, and a little piece of me is completely fine with this omission. After all, it’s not in the “original” latin. Following the standards set by Liturgiam Authenticam, it’s not an o.k. acclamation. It’s not addressed directly to God. And if it isn’t introduced well it really can seem like a side note that gets stuck in, mid Eucharistic Prayer, to make sure everybody’s paying attention. And yes, sometimes I do giggle when we sing the mass of creation version because it evokes a feeling akin to mixing the imperial march from star wars with John Phillips Sousa, and then repeats itself just in case you haven’t had enough imperial marching around. All that to say: I get why it got dropped. 

Dropping the text itself doesn’t bother me that much, for all the afore stated reasons. But singing it at mass for the last time last night really, really bothered me. What bothers me is that I think Mother Church could have done this differently, and used this as a way to reach across the boundary of schism to begin healing a very deep wound. It’s not time for finger pointing- and I heartily admit that protestants have their share to do for healing reformation scars. I find shifting reformation blame completely uninteresting and unhelpful. But it dawned upon me last night that no longer will Protestants and Catholics use the same words to profess their hope in the realization of Christ’s kingdom. This new translation, particularly the point of the mystery of faith, could have been a point where liturgical Protestants (at least mainlines) and Catholics worked together and informed each other. If we had worked together, we still could have dropped memorial acclamation one, no big deal. And when I say we I mean here my whole extended Christian family, weird cousins and all. Protestant liturgy could have grown toward an arguably better expression of the mysterium fide. And Roman Liturgy might have benefited from looking at it’s own genetic development as it was passed down toward its grand children and great grandchildren. We (and here I mean Protestant we) did, after all, steal most of the Roman Rite originally. Just take a close look at the 1662 BCP or Luther’s first few german translations, and you’ll see what I mean.

Again, I find figuring out who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’ for its own sake completely uninteresting and largely unhelpful. Everybody’s to blame for continued schism. What I do find interesting are opportunities for healing and union in the body of Christ. The liturgy can only be for the life of the world when it is the wellspring of the church’s life, it’s source and summit. I’m not angry at anyone, and I’m not even annoyed. I think I feel more like a parent, who knows what my beautiful and brilliant child is capable of, watching that same child settle for less. It makes me unspeakably sad to see yet another opportunity for healing and life pass my Christian family by, untried. In this particular move, I think all of us would have benefited from an aim toward eternal life along with formal latin. The two need not be diametrically opposed.

Let’s do better by each other next time, y’all. We’re family.