Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Everything Changes

I am sitting here for the first time in several years. No excuses. Things change. Since my election as Father General of The Missionaries of St. John, I realize how much "free time" I actually had before. I realize what a blessing it is to lead the simple life of a Priest and Cabinetmaker. Much has changed over the past several years, most of it is not especially noteworthy, but considered all together the changes have been profound. Six of my children are now grown. That only leaves four children at home. Already the house seems so empty. We started building our house in 2016, and have finished it enough to live in it. We continue to plug away at our church house as well, adding more woodwork, and stained glass.

This fall, I have started helping to teach in our home school. It has been an enjoyable and pleasant change for me, however I still have a couple contracts in the shop that I need to keep working on. Consequently, I am teaching school in the morning and early afternoon, and working in the shop late afternoon into early evening. The beauty is that teaching affords me a little bit more office time than I had before, ergo here I am trying to update my blog...

There is great wisdom in the words of St. Paul, "...One thing I do, forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Phil. 3:13b-14. A glance over our shoulders at our history is not necessarily a bad thing. It's good to remember where we came from and lessons learned. But too much backward looking will lead us astray. The older I get, I have a growing number of grand memories. I didn't have these 30 years ago. All I had was in front of me. But I do not live my life trying to make grand memories. Rather, I strive to live each day well, and to do the next good thing. I want to be faithful in the little things of life without much thought to the consequences. The result? Grand memories.

But what does the future hold? God knows. That is all I need to know. I want to know Christ, really know him, in the power of his resurrection, the fellowship of his suffering, and becoming like him in his death. (Phil 3:10) the pathway that leads to Christ lies in front of me. Not in some lofty esoteric vision, but in the tasks at hand, the mundane and excruciatingly ordinary bump and grind of life. But it is the objective that transforms such ordinary tasks as building cabinets, keeping chickens, teaching children their times tables, washing dishes, celebrating Mass and the daily office etc, into the sacred. Yes indeed. "Spiritual" activities like Mass and praying the Office, Scripture reading and morning devotions, even compassionate ministries, are and remain ordinary and mundane tasks until we recognize that these are not the end or goal, but steps on a journey to know Christ. Everything changes, except our goal, and by the Grace of Christ, our destiny.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Missionaries of St. John

It has been nearly a year since I last posted. I don't really have a good excuse other than my own personal quirks. It is an uncomfortable thing for to share thoughts, and experiences with an unknown audience. My life experiences, and ruminations,seem much too ordinary, and hardly noteworthy most of the time. This is, in fact, one of the places where my introversion becomes evident. But as a Priest, and pastor there are times, when it is needful to put aside my personal preferences. I am growing used to it. This is one of those times.

This past year I was named Father General, that is, the head of the Missionaries of St. John. The Missionary Society of St. John, is the religious society that I have been part of since its founding in 2006. The Society is very dear to my heart, and has been the source of strength and inspiration for me and my mission since the day I made my vows. I am honored to serve my dear brothers and sisters in this capacity. I pray that by God's grace I may faithfully discharge the duties entrusted to me.

But what is the Missionary Society of St. John? Who are they, besides a link on my blog to the casual reader? I dare say that one would be hard pressed to find out much about the MSJ even doing a google search. No it is not a secret club. Our hidden-ness is not intentional, but the result of other priorities. We are not interested in building an empire. We are not trying to make a name for ourselves. We eschew any notion of entrepeneurial religion. We are simply missionaries, dedicated to sharing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and make disciples of Him. Success for us is not growing the Religious Society, but advancing the Kingdom of God. It is a unique Charism that we share, and the Holy Spirit is the Giver of such gifts and callings. We recognize fully that all Christians do not share this Charism. However, for those who think they might share this calling and would like to know more, or for those who just want to be assured that I am not the leader of some new cult, or sect, I have attempted a synopsis of the MSJ:

Founded The Feast of St. Nicholas, 2006

Constituted, Rule of Life written 2009

The Missionary Society of St. John the Evangelist is composed of men and women, lay and clergy, united by the divine call to gospel mission, catholic unity, and life according to a shared Rule. This call is expressed by approaching ministry with the zeal characteristic of missionaries to foreign lands: living, working, worshipping and serving among the people they are reaching out to. While outside financial support is welcome, if necessary, the Missionaries of St. John are content to serve at their own expense, in the footsteps of St. Paul, not wanting to be a burden to the people, nor allowing the advance of the Kingdom of God to be restrained or thwarted by the power of Mammon. Ministry is a calling not a career, flowing our of who we are as Missionaries, rather than the need to earn a living.

Missionaries of St. John derive their strength for such difficult service through the close knit brotherhood of the Society. The Society functions to support, encourage, affirm, nurture and equip missionaries in their individual and corporate work. It provides a familial safety net of men and women who understand and share similar challenges. The unity of the Society is intentional not coincidental, rooted in a bond Christian love that transcends differences of political structures. We are Missionaries of St. John, serving in Anglican, Roman Catholic, Orthodox, or other catholic contexts. While the Society is Anglo-Catholic in tradition, membership in the society is open to all catholic Christians who share this unique charism.
The MSJ is resident in the Missionary Diocese of All Saints, and under the Episcopal Protection of the Rt. Rev. Alberto Morales OSB, Diocese of Quincy, ACNA.

Ministries of the MSJ

There are over 50 vowed members serving in 5 Chapters of the MSJ: Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Texas, with on-going work in the Diocese of Lake Victoria Nyanza, in Tanzania. The work of Missionaries of St. John takes many shapes.

Parish Ministries: MSJs who fulfill their mission as active participants in established parishes, adding strength, and bringing their missionary consciousness to everyday parish and community life.

Community Ministries: MSJs serve in intentional MSJ communities or houses for the purpose of serving the needs of compassion and evangelization in a specific locale.

Interior Ministries: MSJs whose mission is prayer for the Society, the Church and the World, and/or operate Retreat Houses for the MSJ, and others who need rest and “re-creation” for their work as missionaries.

Compassionate Ministries: MSJs who serve as solitary individuals, a particular need, such as hospice chaplains, prison chaplains, underground ministries in public contexts, nurses, teachers etc.

Educational/formational Ministries: MSJs who work in teaching, spiritual formation or direction, or as a support to other teaching or formational ministries.

Vocational Ministries: MSJs who bring the missionary charism to bear in their work place. Every workplace is its own mission field. Vocational missionaries, strive to be salt and light in their own “secular” vocation, and participate in the life of the local parish or community. Every lay person, and many clergy of the MSJ are called to be vocational missionaries.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Pray and Work

Ora et labora It comes from the Rule of St. Benedict, which he wrote as precepts to govern his monastic houses in the 6th century. Back in November, through a discussion I was having with my Father General, The Rt. Rev. Frederick Fick, MSJ., I learned what this maxim meant.

I used to think of it as a sort of motto. Colleges have mottoes."To seek to learn is to seek to serve," "The whole Bible for the Whole world." Businesses have mottos, Those catchy phrases that bring to mind their product or service. Sometime even churches have them, I used to think of ora et labora in that way. I wonder what St. Benedict was selling? What was he promoting? Can you imagine the protestant reformers proclaiming, "Ora et Labora!" instead of Sola Scriptura? The truth is that to us moderns (or post moderns) it doesn't sound very spiritual--well, maybe half. It's hard for us to distance ourselves from the materialism of our age. Religion has become an exclusively spiritual matter. What does work have to do with it?

Ever since the Garden of Eden, humanity's understanding of work has been darkened. It has become for us a "four letter word." We see only the curse of it, "By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread," and forget that before the fall Adam and Eve had work to do. Work is viewed as a necessary evil which most of us work hard to get out of. People spend most of their life, working hard and long, saving, investing, and planning so that when they reach a magic age, they will be able to retire. Some of us buy lottery tickets in hopes of graduating early. We even think of heaven sometimes in this way. When we get there we won't have to work any more. It will be like an eternal church service.

In thinking this way, we miss an important truth that St. Benedict was teaching, namely that work is an important part of spirituality. God created us that way. Over the years I have written many things reflecting on my life as a bi-vocational pastor. I have tried to be positive, but it was also a frustration. But after 21 years, if I had the opportunity to be "full-time" pastor, I would still find something to do with my hands, I would probably keep doing woodwork, in my spare time. What I came to realize this past fall, is that I'm really not bi-vocational after all. I am a full time pastor, who is also a woodworker. My work is also my service, my prayer. I have always been a Benedictine in my heart, even when I had other ideas of what I thought I should be doing. Most of my ideas came from traditional images of Pastoral ministry. I am not and have never been a traditional pastor.

Not only was I not understanding my own gifting, I was in reality neglecting, or even rejecting the gifts that God had given. I had thought that I would be a better parish priest if I didn't work an "outside" job. I would have lots of time to read heady books and write thoughtful and inspiring blog posts...I realize now that for some people that might be true. In my case it would not. By my work, I keep my feet firmly planted in the world where my parishioners
live. What I have learned is that there is a huge chasm affixed between the blue collar worker and the Gnostic spirituality of our day. The spirituality that says, "If you really want to be a good disciple, you have to pray and study the bible for hours a day, keep a journal, and attend church every time there is a service, and have a home bible study once a week--and don't forget service projects." By implication, a poor or lower middle class laborer who works 50-70 hrs per week, just to eek out his "hand to mouth" living, will never be as good a disciple of Jesus as the more privileged. St. Benedict's axiom reveals this for the myth that it is. We work, and we pray.

It has taken me 20 years but I am beginning to get it. It's humbling. It is also an incredible relief to know that I can be who I am, and, that God gave me the charism and the skill set I have, in full accordance with His purpose. With this realization my whole life comes into focus. It all makes sense. It doesn't mean that I don't have improvements to make. What it does mean is that God has given me everything necessary to be the best "me" possible. Work does not hinder the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit; work becomes the context of our sanctification. There is no dishonor, no shame in being a worker priest, rather I stand within a long line of worker priests and saints, who have had Ora et labora as their motto.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Home Schooling Idiosyncrasies

As an advocate and participant in "home eduction," I have to confess that the movement as a whole is fraught with pockets of weird-ness. To some, the whole movement is weird because they don't just send their kids to school like everyone else. Of course everyone knows, that the government's Department of Education, is full of the experts on education. What can parents possibly know about teaching children... (Yawn). That's not the weirdness I am talking about. I'm talking about within the movement itself- like those, who make the bold move to home school and then pattern everything they do after the public school model and then fill their every waking moment with participation in home school co-ops and support groups, organized sports and private lessons. Or those who pride themselves in the high quality of education their children are receiving, and parade their children about as trophies of their success. "Li'l Jim, potty trained at 9 months, and learned to read the following summer. He's now taking college courses on-line at the age of 7." As a parent I totally understand being proud of our children and their accomplishments. There are points at which such boasting helps to make the argument for the viability of home schooling against its detractors, but among the home schooling crowd this is just weird. The thing that really wearies me is that so many Christian home-educators are so woefully ignorant of the Christian faith, and the history of the Church. And as if that were not enough, they are content to remain in such ignorance. It's as if they would say, " We love Jesus, and worship him, but really have no interest in learning more about Him." It really doesn't matter to them that Christ founded his Church almost 2000 years ago, and that we in the 21st century are at the end of a long line of people who lived and died for Him, preserving and handing on the faith "that was once for all delivered to the Saints." (Jude 3) Furthermore there may be generations to come that depend on our preserving and passing on the very same Faith. In studying history, we learn that the best sources are primary sources, eye witnesses to the events. All secondary sources, are limited by the bias of the writer. Yet how many Christian home schoolers, have ever read any of the Apostolic fathers (the first generation of Christian leaders after the apostles)? Do they even know that there are volumes and volumes written by Christians in every age past? Or do they teach their children the christian faith, based entirely modern writers, or worse, their own personal interpretation of the Scriptures? This is a problem. Not because it means they are not sincere or earnest in their faith, but because it creates a dysfunctional witness to Christ and his Kingdom. Such inattentiveness to the most important events in human history is scandalous to the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As people, living out our lives as Christians, should we not give as much attention to learning and teaching our Faith as we do to mathematics, literacy, history and science? Just sayin... The Truth matters.

Ok. I recognize that I might have offended someone by what I have said. But look at the bright side, as long as I don't know who I have offended, I won't know you were one of the "weird" home schoolers I was talking about. :-)

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anglican AND Catholic

I have to admit that when Pope Benedict announced the establishment of Anglican Ordinariates I was excited. After all, the Anglican Communion has her issues. However, as time went on and more information was released about how these ordinariates would be ordered, my hope faded. You see, I was under the naive impression that this action as aiming at restored communion between Anglicans and Romans. As it turns out, the Ordinariate seems to be just an expansion of the Pastoral provision that was already in place. Now, with the announcement of the U.S. Ordinariate, Anglo-Catholics have an opportunity. For what? Conversion. Every time I read the word in this context, my heart sinks. And it seemed like we were so close to genuine unity. I understand that there are a number of congregations and clergy who are accepting this "opportunity." So to answer the question before it is asked, no, I will not be one of them.

So how did this happen? How could we seem so close to unity and then flinch, and step back to the "safety" of the status quo? I cannot answer for Rome, But I can answer for myself, and probably many Anglican brothers and sisters. Anglo-Catholics, such as myself, are not "wanna be" Roman Catholics. We are Anglican Catholics. We desire unity in the Body of Christ as Anglicans. If we really believed that the Rome Catholic church was the ONLY true expression of the Church, we would have had opportunity to "convert" a long time ago. However, to "convert" would demand a level of dishonesty that I cannot tolerate. It's as if we are to say, "Well let's pretend my confirmation, my ordination, and every mass I ever said, every absolution I ever pronounced, was invalid. Oh, and by the way, I'll be allowed to keep my wife, but I really shouldn't have married, it was a mistake." Seriously? Unity at the cost of integrity? No, Thank you.

Sadly, it seems that the only possibility of restored unity in the Church catholic, rests on the shoulders of the Roman Catholic Church. She must recognize as valid the other catholic jurisdictions, such as Anglican and Eastern Orthodox. Unfortunately, that would mean overturning her belief in the universal jurisdiction of the Pope, and, amending decisions and edicts of prior popes. Pope Benedict could do this, but will he?

What does lie on our shoulders, is for Anglo-Catholics to get our own house in order. Maybe we were hoping that Brother Rome could help us sort out our differences. Well that didn't work, so lets get back to the table. How dare we point our finger at Rome, while there is not visible unity between us? It is well past time for unity among the "alphabet soup" of Anglo Catholicism.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Believing and Doing

Sometimes well meaning people speak of the Liturgical or Sacramental worship as though it were an option or a preference, "for people who like that kind of stuff." As long as you are worshiping Jesus, preaching the Gospel, its OK. Even within the Anglican tradition, there are those who would shelve the vestments, and liturgy for the sake of a more "seeker sensitive" environment. If reaching the lost is our objective, why persist in a worship "style" that is so "uncomfortable." Why kneel, and sign the cross in prayer, when standing or sitting works fine in other churches? It's just a formality a ritual.

Such reasoning sounds pretty good at first, yet it is a symptom the resurrgence of a gnostic heresy, that has once again infiltrated the Church. The Gnostics, held to a dichotomy between spiritual and material. The spiritual is good, material is certainly of lesser value, if not evil by nature. It is expressed in the idea that worship of God is primarily spiritual, and that the material is a distraction, of no value whatsoever. Your faith need not have any material or out-ward expression. Thus we enter the age of "casual" worship. Come as you are: jeans or shorts are fine, coffee holders in the pew, pray however you are comfortable, sing or sit back and enjoy the music. The important thing is that you are praying, and that you are present. Worship however you want. Be baptized, or not, have communion or not. Its the Spirit that matters.

The danger in this thinking is that it contains a grain of truth. The spirit is more important. The flesh is weak, and mortal. The Spirit is eternal. The error is in the premise that the two are separate. That the flesh is not effected or influenced by the spirit or vise versa. The Incarnation teaches us otherwise: It was Jesus' real physical death, his very lifeblood, that atones for our sins, that is, it accomplishes a spiritual effect, our eternal salvation. He taught us that we must be born of water and the Spirit to have eternal life, and that only a fool would hear his words, and not do them. The New Testament is replete with examples, testifying to the fact that your spiritual condition has ramifications for your outward life and behavior. The Apostle Paul testifies that mishandling the sacrament, profanes the Body and Blood of Christ, and had resulted in sickness and even death among the Corinthians. (1 Corinthians 11:27-32) To top it off, we live in the hope, not to be free from this prison of the flesh (Plato) but the resurrection of our bodies, immortal and glorified for all eternity.

This Scriptural truth is expressed in our worship. We show our love and respect for God, by our actions. We acknowledge his Majesty, by giving up our comfort for the sake of his Honor. We bring our outward bodies into submission to our heart and mind. If we honor Him with our thoughts, and emotion, we should also honor him with our behavior and dress. It is important. It's not that jeans or shorts are unacceptable if it is the best you have. Why would you not wear your best to worship the King of Kings?

Here we come to the heart of the matter-- our objective. The Church is the visible Body of Christ. He is present where two or three are gathered in his Name. He is present in the blessed Sacrament. Our worship is directed toward Him and Him alone. Consequently, we are not at liberty to worship as we see fit, or to pamper our flesh with comfort or convenience. Worship ALWAYS reflects and is appropriate to the object/person we worship. Our submission to the ancient liturgy of the church is a fitting and appropriate expression of our love and faith in Christ Jesus. He is not a motivational speaker or a rock star. He is, after all, God incarnate, the Second person of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, the Head over all things for the Church which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all. (Ephesians 1:22-23)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Bread, Sawdust, and....

Chickens??? Tractors? The truth is I haven't been making much sawdust lately. In fact, business has been slow for the last year and a half. Oh, I'm still in the cabinet business, but until the economy turns the corner, I've had to diversify. It's called making do. In reality it is what bi-vocational ministry is all about. Sure, I enjoy cabinetmaking, and it has provided well for us over the last 13 years or so, but its not my career. I was pastor of a small church, with a pile of student loans, when I graduated from Seminary. The four hundred dollars I received each month from the church, would just cover my loan payments. I had to find a job or leave the assignment.
Providentially, a good friend, who was a cabinetmaker offered me a job, as his helper. I didn't have any woodworking experience outside of "Industrial Arts class in Jr. High, but the job worked out well, and apparently, I had a knack for it. In a couple years I was working for myself, building custom cabinets, but more importantly I was providing for my family while I served the church. Cabinetmaking has made it possible for me to serve God in churches that cannot afford a full-time paid pastor. (For the man willing to do it, there is no shortage of small churches that need a shepherd.)

So this is me adjusting to a new economy: building cabinets, giving piano lessons, gardening, raising chickens for meat and eggs, and whatever else it takes, to provide for my family, and serve the dear people of my parish.