Tuesday, May 08, 2018

Fullness of God and Documentation

The Fullness of God and Documentation

Good morning, Al. Ive been thinking about you lately. Many years ago a parishioner called me when I was serving at the Church of the Epiphany, in Euclid, Ohio. He told me that his best friend, Al, had just received news that he was facing a terminal illness and he was struck with terror. Al was not a parishioner and in fact, he was, what we call in the trade; “a pleasant pagan”. My parishioner wondered if I would mind going to the hospital to visit him. I did that.

When I got to the hospital, Al greeted me warmly and said somewhat sheepishly, that he was not a believer but would very much like to be. He wondered how he could become a Christian. I suggested Baptism. I briefly explained the matter to him. After all, there was that Baptism we read about last week of the Ethiopian Eunuch. And this week we read from the Acts of the Apostles; “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” Clearly Al had received the Holy Spirit and was searching to be filled with all the fullness of God. I asked the nurse for a basin of water and we stood together along with Al’s wife as his Godparents, and I baptized him “in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” 

Al’s life changed that day. He worshipped the Daily Office with us. We were few in number on weekdays but we usually had a cup of coffee and chatted afterward. One day Al said to us; “All I ask for is to be present for my daughter’s wedding” which was scheduled for about the following Spring. I told Al to see if he could “cut a deal with God”. That sounded Biblical enough for me. He did cut a deal and then, the following Spring, in a moment from heaven that I’ll never forget, he danced with to “daddy’s little girl”. Of course I was the officiant. What a day! Talk about all the fullness of God!

A little later on, Al said; “I wonder if I could make it to my son’s graduation?” The young man was working on his doctorate. Now we were talking a couple of years. I said to Al; “You’re beginning to stretch things, but go ahead; see if you can cut a deal.” He did. And he made it.

Al kept cutting deals but finally, the last deal he could cut with God was this; “Jesus, bring me safely home.” And of course, God did that. Jesus brought Al safely home. 

The key to life is to love God in all things and above all things just like today’s Collect says. That’s what it means to bring joy to your heart and to the heart of others. Walking along by the sea morning by morning I see the waves crashing onshore and today’s psalm comes to mind. 
1 Sing to the Lord a new song, *
for he has done marvelous things.
8 Let the sea make a noise and all that is in it, *
9 Let the rivers clap their hands, *
and let the hills ring out with joy before the Lord,
I see dogs chasing the waves, children playing in the sand, elderly women wearing their canes walking steadily along, hale young men standing with pretty young girls, I hear foreign and domestic languages, and in it all, I feel filled with all the fullness of God. Jesus said it in the Gospel today; “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

Many of you feel filled with all the fullness of God, don’t you? Just the simplest of things you see along life’s comings and goings, inspire such joy. Yesterday, I happened to come across Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong’s song; “What a Wonderful World.” The nickname “Satchmo” was assigned to him by his friends who said his mouth looked like a “satchel”. His smile as broad and bright as as a rainbow, always fills me yet again with the wonder of it all. “I say to myself; what a wonderful world!” It doesn’t take much, going for a walk on a beautiful sunny springtime day like yesterday was, for instance.

Where do we get all this, you may wonder? I wonder about that too. How was it that I became so filled with the fullness of God? Was it my grandmother? The traumatic loss of my dad as a child? Perhaps the beauty of my childhood church? Perhaps the long lonely nights when I tried to reason it out during those times I could not sleep? I still do that. Perhaps all the above.

Where did you become filled with all the fullness of God? I’m not at all sure. But this I can tell you, you fill me with the fullness of God. It is somewhere in your music, the way you read the sacred text, at the altar rail when shoulder to shoulder, you make close to each other and the sacred spaces allotted to us in life. And then you go out to do the work God has given you to do. You care about the kids in the neighborhood, those struggling with anxiety about where they stand with this country’s skittishness over sexual orientation and transgender rights, immigration, documentation and so many other matters of controversy regarding our status with one another.

Funny thing, I’ve been doing some genealogical work and discovered that my ninth great grandfather was Captain John Gallop. He was the first Boston Harbor Pilot in the mid 1600’s. He lived on what is now known as Gallop’s Island way out there in the harbor. Later generations of Irish and Italian immigrants were quarantined on that island when they first came to these shores. It was the first bit of land they saw when they came here by the tens of thousands in their day. 

On further examination, I discovered that the “documentation” my Puritan ancestors, Irish ancestors, Cindy’s Italian ancestors, was, shall we say, questionable or scant. Captain Gallop came on a land grant. History tells us that native Americans found that documentation of  questionable validity. Native Americans didn’t grant Captain Gallop that island. He took it! As for my Irish ancestors, Cindy’s Italian ancestors, all they had to do to get here was pay passage, and get through quarantine on grandpa’s island. And as for African American immigration and the documentation for that? It took far too long for us to realize that slavery was cruel, unjust, and plain morally wrong! But here we are today, all of us together somehow, filled with all the fullness of God. 

Now what about the "Dreamers", DACA? The folks from Honduras? On what moral ground do we stand when we decide to deport them?

I like to describe myself as just a “simple parish priest”. That’s all I ever wanted to be. But someone I know and care about very much recently said; “A simple parish priest? Naw, I think of you as a feisty parish priest!”

Come to think of it, there’s probably some truth to that. When I see the poor, the homeless, the elderly, the young, the marginalized, and the foreign born…anybody who I think of as vulnerable in the social order, being bullied about by those in power, I find myself eager to “insinuate” myself into situations like that. To be filled with the fullness of God, means more than personal piety. For as Jesus points out in today’s Gospel; “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

I read about the families that are being broken up by ICE, the so-called Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency of The United States of America. I find myself wondering what I can do?  I don’t know right off hand. But, I’ll think of something. 

All through our history we’ve built churches to help organize our efforts to protect the vulnerable in our midst. The key to our future, if indeed God wants us to have a future, is for us to organize our mission and ministry among those in need and where there is any suffering or sorrow, oppression, or injustice.
How did these people build all those churches? How did they build upon the ruins of their history? I asked that question when I visited Holy Island in Britain way back in 1973. The church here at the time, was in decline. All my life, the church has been in decline. How did those Celts do it? Build churches? 

One on one they went out to discover the needs of the people? St Aidan of Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island) is my teacher. After all, if he could convert the Brits, who am I to second guess him. He built the church stone on stone, person on person. He walked everywhere. And wherever he went his first question was; “Are you Baptised?” What is the reason and purpose of your life?  What do you care most about? What do you need? How can I help? What can we do together which neither of us can do alone? Do you really know who Jesus was? Is? 
I picture Aidan sitting at the hearth with friends he made, and a sheep dog sitting between them. They talk into the wee hours of the night sharing their hearts. They discovered together who God is between them. Learning together to love, forgive, reconcile and make sense of the short time we have on the planet. And then they built a place where they could make manifest the love they shared for God and each other. 
They made the church visible. They greeted visitors skillfully. They got to know people, they baptized them in the name of the Holy Trinity, then they sent them out to do the work God gave them to do. 
But where they began was with learning where the people hurt, what they needed. By the way, these Celts were also a cheerful bunch. They had wonderful fun gatherings. They made very good beer. They knew life was short. They knew how difficult and sad life could be. They never let a Sunday go by without a celebration. In fact this is why, to this day, we call what we do; “A Celebration of the Holy Eucharist.” 

Jesus said this of being filled with all the fullness of God in today’s Gospel. “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”

Well, Al, thank you for listening. I have a heart that is full of love for God and for these people, just like you. Captain Gallop...good morning grandpa, thanks for listening. I hope to get out to the Island this summer like I do every summer. This really is a beautiful place. There are still many more we hope will to come to these shores like we did to find a place in the sun. I pray we can find a way to welcome them. This life we live is simply an amazing gift. 

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided, and Everlasting Trinity. Amen

Fr Paul

Monday, April 30, 2018

Bullies and Name Calling

Of Bullies and Name Calling

When I was in grade five at the old Charlton School in Somerville, a schoolyard bully used to call me names. I tried to avoid him. His name was Brian. He followed me home from school at lunchtime, and picked on me. He walked behind me, pushing me around, and stepping on my shoe heels forcing me to stop and put my shoes back on.

I complained to my grandmother about all this and she tried to comfort me and encouraged me to avoid Brian. No use, the bullying continued. I came home crying one day not knowing what to do. My grandmother, brandishing her wooden spoon, finally said; “Buddy Bresnahan!” When your elders use your last name you know you’d better listen up. “The next time Brian picks on you, I want you to tell him to stop and if he doesn’t, I want you to haul off and hit him as hard as you can.” Geez, that didn’t sound like Ma. But then she said; “If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re not getting lunch.” 

That got my attention! Sure enough next day, Brian pushed me around and stepped on my shoes and called me names one last time. I warned him. He laughed at me and kept it up. I wheeled around and unleashed a left hook that caught him square on his right chin and sent him flying. I don’t think he was expecting that and I surprised myself at my pugilistic skill. Brian never picked on me again. More importantly, I had lunch that day.

We live in a time of bullying and name calling. We call each other conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, black and white, foreigners and much, much more. We do so as if we were enemies to one another; a divided nation.

Speaking of names, In today’s lesson from Acts we have someone called an “Ethiopian Eunuch”. Imagine! Here the church in Jerusalem is trying to settle the question of whether you had to be a practicing Jew before you could be a Christian, and Philip comes back to HQ with the news. I can imagine Peter and Paul saying; “You baptized a what?” Here’s a man who is neither Jew nor Greek. Not only is he very black, he is also from Africa, and his gender identity? That certainly must have raised a few eyebrows. We don’t know his name, but we do know we was “An Ethiopian Eunuch”. That fact challenged the church to think about the inclusion/exclusion question right then and there. Thank God the church settled on the idea that no matter who you are; Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female or eunuch or whatever…we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord. ~para. Galatians 3:28

There is name calling in the church too. Think of it; the Episcopal Church. We use terms like the following to describe each other’s theological predispositions, we are; 
Anglo Catholics
Social Activists
These terms can divide us as individuals or as congregations. But what if we look behind our labels? Perhaps we can see something that unites rather than divides. Perhaps if we look at Jesus; the way, the truth and the life…

Alow me to point to the reality that lives behind these names we call each other. I believe that each label represents an integral component of the personhood of Jesus. If we believe that Jesus is the “way, the truth, and the life” as our collect says he is, and further if we believe that Jesus is the way to eternal life, it behooves us to look behind our labels and see if Jesus is there with us. And if Jesus is there, so too is God.

For instance, Jesus was a traditionalist. He was a practicing Jew. He lived the Law and said so in the Sermon on the Mount; “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill the law.” ~Matthew 5:17. He recited the Psalms every day of his life. He often found himself in the synagogue and loved to debate matters of the law and the prophets with the Scribes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. Often those debates also generated controversy. That’s just the way things are among rabbis and clergy. Having just returned from our annual Clergy Conference, I can attest to this!

Jesus was an intellectual. He thought critically about the Law and the Prophets. He was the Teacher, a Rabbi. His sermon on the Mount in Matthew or the Sermon on the Plain in Luke, are creative, brilliant, and tersely stated principles of enduring theological principle. His parables compel us to search our souls with questions that plumb the depths of who we are with each other and with God. He makes us think!

Jesus was an Evangelical. He called us to repent and to be born anew to a living hope. He expected us to live into a metamorphosis from an old way of living in sin and self will, to a new life loving God, neighbor and self.

Jesus was an Anglo Catholic.. On the hillsides of Galilee he fed them with the Bread of heaven. At supper with his friends he took bread, said the blessing, he broke the bread and gave it to them saying; Take, eat, this is my Body. Likewise after supper, he took the cup. The mystery of the Presence of Jesus continues to this very day as we replicate and rehearse this sacred sacrament!

Jesus was a Charismatic. He was filled with the Holy Spirit and filled others likewise. At his Baptism in the River Jordan, in his Temptation in the Wilderness, at his Transfiguration, at his trial, Death and Resurrection the Holy Spirit moved within him and we beheld his Glory. And finally on Pentecost, he breathed upon us and filled us with the Spirit that enables us to preach the Gospel to the ends of the earth and in all languages.

And finally Jesus was a Social Activist. He healed the sick, fed the poor, ate with prostitutes, and reached out to the rejected; lepers and outcasts alike. He expects us to do likewise. He said: “Peter do you love me? When Jesus asked the question the third time, Peter was hurt. Then Jesus said; Peter, feed my lambs! ~para John 21. 

Take a comprehensive look at Jesus. If we look behind the labels we use; if we look behind the names we call each other, we will see one another as created in the image of God. This is because we see God through Jesus. If we are Traditionalists we honor what has been handed down to us from the ancients. If we are Intellectuals we dare to Reason and think critically. If we are Evangelicals we will realize that we need to change fundamentally from the old self of willful disobedience to a whole new self of renewal. If we are Anglo Catholics we recognize that life is a Mystery and we honor Jesus and one another in our sacramental life. If we are Charismatics the Holy Spirit is alive and well within us, and brings us peace, equips us with gifts for ministry in the world, and grants us the Wisdom from on High to use those gifts skillfully. And finally if we are Social Activists we search diligently for Justice. We are relentless when we see suffering or injustice. We organize our lives and our congregations around suffering and injustice until we see the social order comply with God’s will; namely to “Do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. ~Micah 6:8

This is what it means to abide in Christ as Jesus abides in us. This is what it means for us to bear much fruit as today’s Gospel requires. He is the Vine, we are the branches. 

Therefore my friends, my dear friends when we call out the name “Jesus” we are not playing a game of theological triumphalism or exclusive bullying as if Jesus is the only way to God and everyone else is doomed. Not at all! We proclaim that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life because we believe in justice, spirituality, the mystery of life, the need to change our violent ways, the need to think and recognize that truth is truth, and finally we honor all human traditions that  point to God.

As Christians we love one another because God is love. We are not bullies or name callers. Unfortunately history is marred with dreadful religious and racial violence. Someday I hope to go to Montgomery, Alabama to see the recently opened National Memorial for Peace and Justice. Our history is marred not only by slavery and oppression, but by lynchings. God help us! Whether we are Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists or Christian, Atheists, Agnostics, Black or White, we are all capable of excusing violence in the Name of what we believe in. This only leads to violence and violence begets violence. 

Years after my famous punch, my friend Brian said that we needed to finish our “fight”. I told him there was no fight. He had put me in a position where I had to defend myself. I did that. Whatever conflict there had been was now over. He grudgingly admitted that. Ultimately Brian and I became very good friends for a very long time. That’s how things should be among us, my dear friends, since “God is Love.”

Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The way to God. We believe that Jesus is the example, par excellence, of the Love of God made flesh and blood. “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them” ~lesson from 1 John.

In the Name of God; the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul

Monday, April 23, 2018

Red Heads and Whiskey

Red Headed Women and Whiskey!

Imagine this: there is someone willing to give their life for you! Mother bears are known to be fierce if someone were to come between her and the cubs. Mothers and fathers will often set themselves in harm’s way when their children are at risk. 

But what about you? Me? What about the vulnerable in our midst? Or the rejected and sinful? The lonesome, the elderly, the poor, the sick, the foreign born? The unloved of the social order? Is there someone who will give their life for them? For you? Whoever you are?

Today’s Gospel gives us an unequivocal answer to that question. Jesus did. This is why we have Good Shepherd Sunday. We proclaim that whoever you are and whatever you’ve done, whatever your status, whether upright and righteous, or a miserable sinner, there is Someone who will give their life for you.

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And again; “I am the good shepherd…And I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Ever wonder, as I do, who those “other sheep” are? It seems Jesus continues to gather us in ever widening circles of God’s inclusive love.

And yes, the Good Shepherd knows the sheep each by name. I’m still working on that and your name tags and the photos I’m taking at coffee hour are helping enormously. Thank you. 

I once met a real shepherd from Greece years ago. I was involved in community organizing efforts in Hyde Park during the Busing Crisis. I met this fellow at a meeting then, and discovered that he had been a shepherd boy as a youth, I asked him what it takes to be a “good” shepherd. He was a grizzled, short, stocky fella. He was well worn in years and attire. He responded to me in an instant;
“Tree tings; First, you gotta know de sheep’s namzz. Dey don’ trus you ‘cept you know dey namzz. Two; dogs…you gotta have dogs. Trained dogs. Dey keeps de sheeps togeddah. Tree, every once ‘en a while you gotta whacken de sheeps upside de hed when dey steps outta line.”
That last one reminded me of my family elders. They taught me to keep a low profile. And they taught me to mind. 

Jesus is our Good Shepherd. And he gives his life for us. Think about that. You. Your life is worth the Savior’s life. God’s only son! Period. Full stop. Each and every one of you. The constitution says we are equal to one another. But in God’s Kingdom, your citizenship confers much more than mere equality. Each one of you is infinitely precious to God. You are not just equal but infinitely and unconditionally beloved of God. Got that? Not up here intellectually, but in here in your heart of hearts!

Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He knows you each by Name. He loves YOU so much he will lay his life down for you. Say that, pray that every day of your life until you believe that!

Likewise John tells us in today’s Epistle; “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Now, as a parish priest, I am certainly willing to take some reasonable risks, but I have a wife and family and giving up my life for the likes of you? (A shrug of the shoulder here.)

In point of fact, my life has been threatened twice during my professional priesthood.  The first time, I was in Hyde Park, Boston during Phase Two of the Busing Crisis. On the eve of my first Sunday on the job, I received a phone call and the woman on the other end of the line said; “You say one word about busing and we will kill you.” It was a very hot summer’s night, and the next day was hot and humid as I began my first service at Christ Church. There was but a handful in church. I will admit to you, I was downright terrified.

The second time was different. Allow me to tell this story.

When I was at St. Mark’s Church in West Virginia, I found myself in the hotbed of controversy over the building of a homeless shelter. Our church operated what was called Christ’s Kitchen, a free breakfast and lunch program for the poor in our midst. There were a number of homeless folks who ate there and who lived along the riverbank and under a bridge. One especially stormy night a small band of homeless folk put together a makeshift shelter of cardboard boxes. They set a fire to keep warm. Things got out of control and when the smoke cleared three people had died. 

The press came by to investigate. We went over to the site of the fire and in what was one of the most shameful things I’ve ever seen, I watched as a garbage truck from the department of Public Works cleared the scene of all the worldly possessions of the homeless and the police gave tickets to them for littering and vagrancy. Not only had they lost their friends in the fire, all their worldly possessions were gone and they were facing court action and fines for the crime of being homeless. The reporter and I documented and published the sequence of events.

We went back to Christ’s Kitchen to collect ourselves in the aftermath the trauma. And then in a moment of inspiration, I said to the remaining band of homeless folk; “Give me your tickets!”. The reporter and I went out to the front steps of the church and I brandished the tickets in front of a camera and announced that the police had harassed the homeless at the direction of city authorities, and that I had taken the tickets into my possession and if the courts wanted to collect fines they’d have to get the money out of me. The story hit the front page of the Charleston Gazette.

The response from the city was predictable. The next morning I arrived at my office to find my secretary in tears and she told me that the President of the City Council had called and and was in a state of outrage. He said to her and I quote; “Those Irish, the only thing they brought to this country was red headed women and whiskey”. The press were there waiting for a quote from me. I was ready;
“I’ll have one of each!” 

The conflict in the early stages was palpable. Nobody wanted a homeless shelter in their neighborhood. I faced the fury of the NIMBY syndrome and even a lawsuit. One night Cindy received a phone call from an especially hostile person, and the voice said; “We’re going to kill your husband.” Cindy being Cindy, replied as only Cindy can; “Yeah, take a numbah, I want to kill him too sometimes!” We both laughed heartily if also somewhat nervously. She did seem to take some of the steam out of the threat. 
Thus began a sequence of events that led to the building of a homeless shelter. I shall never forget all the parishioners, community leaders, lawyers, police, civic leaders and so on who became a part of a collaborative effort to build that shelter. What had begun in controversy and confrontation, eventually became a galvanizing rally point for constructive cooperative ministry.

Folks, we hope it doesn’t always come to the “last full measure of our devotion”, but truth be told we may have to put our lives on the line for our neighbors, our families, and especially the vulnerable in our midst, and God knows there are plenty of those these days.

Salvation come to us in the willingness to love one another as Jesus loves us. So lets be careful when today’s lesson from Acts tell us; “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved, but the Name of Jesus.” Let’s be clear, we are not talking about two syllables; “Je-sus” that is to say the name alone, we are talking about what that Holy Name stands for, namely, the Holy One who lays down his life for us. And so too we are called to lay down our lives for one another if in fact it comes to that. Salvation then, is living the life Jesus lived as the Good Shepherd of his people, willing to put ourselves on the line for the God’s flock.

There are those times when we face the fury of those who feel threatened by our willingness to love the unlovable. Whether it is in a busing crisis, or the homeless, or the many more who find themselves outcast in our contemporary social order. We are not alone either in these moments of personal risk or even in the long last road of our suffering. The Good Shepherd is always with us. When Barbara Bush faced her long last hours she did so with grace, humor and above all, faith. 

For as the magnificent and stirring words of the Psalter say; 
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me…Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen. 

Fr Paul

Monday, April 16, 2018

Is that You Jesus?

Is that You Jesus?

This Sunday in the Church Year we often read “On the Road to Emmaus”; the story of Jesus walking with yet unbeknownst to his disciples. He asks what they are talking about. They hasten to tell him the story; “Are you the only one in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s been going on?”  They tell the stranger their amazing story. When they stop for supper Jesus gives thanks, breaks bread and then they realize, this is Jesus. Suddenly he vanishes. In the fullness of time an even fuller recognition dawns upon them that Christ often appears in a stranger’s presence.

Look around you, day in day out, here in this sacred space, or out there in that sacred space; at work, at school, at home and out and about running errands. If you take a moment you may recognize that Christ is present in friend and stranger alike in some extraordinary and in some very ordinary moments. 

“Be known to us in the breaking of the bread. Jesus, open the eyes of our faith!” today’s Collect invites us to pray. So too in in today’s Gospel Jesus is known to his disciples in the eating of a piece of broiled fish. Then he opened their minds to understand. 

There is symbolism in sharing a meal, as sociologists tell us. A study at UCLA shows; “In every society, food is highly symbolic, in the sense that members imbue particular kinds and qualities of food with sentimental, moral, religious, and health-related meanings.” This and other studies show that sharing a meal changes relationships qualitatively. Go to dinner with somebody you care about and the bond between you changes, deepens. Jesus knew this obviously, when he broke bread with us. 

The Eucharist then is essentially missional in nature to Jesus. As the Gospel says as they eat the Body and Blood; “Go forward and tell the whole world the good news about repentance and forgiveness, beginning right here” in Haverhill and then to all nations. The word liturgy in the ancient Graeco-Roman world means “public service” like road building or bridge building. We’ve got work to do to proclaim the Gospel right here, right now! This is our Liturgy; our Public Service.

And since the Lectionary does not tell the Emmaus story today, I’d like to tell you another story. It has a contemporary ring to it because it deals with a very current reality; the epidemic of depression. Depression is what my Spiritual Director calls; “The common cold; or the influenza outbreak of the Modern World.”

St. Francis and Brother Leo; I love the story and it goes like this;

One day Saint Francis and brother Leo were walking down the road. Noticing Leo was depressed, Francis turned and asked, “Leo, do you know what it means to be pure of heart?”
“Of course. It means to have no sins, faults or weaknesses to reproach myself for.”
“Ah,” said Francis, “now I understand why you're sad. We will always have something to reproach ourselves for.”
“Right,” said Leo. “That's why I despair of ever arriving at purity of heart.”
“Leo, listen carefully to me. Don't be so preoccupied with the purity of your heart. Turn and look at Jesus. Admire Him. Rejoice that He is who He is—your Brother, your Friend, your Lord and Savior. That, dear brother, is what it means to be pure of heart. And once you've turned to Jesus, don't turn back and look at yourself. Don't wonder where you stand with Jesus.”
“The sadness of not being perfect, the discovery that you really are sinful, is a feeling much too human, even borders on idolatry. Focus your vision outside yourself, on the beauty, graciousness and compassion of Jesus Christ. The pure of heart praise Him from sunrise to sundown.”
“Even when they feel broken, feeble, distracted, insecure and uncertain, they are able to release it into His peace. A heart like that is stripped and filled-stripped of self and filled with the fullness of God. It is enough that Jesus is Lord.”
After a long pause, Leo said, “Still, Francis, the Lord demands our effort and fidelity.”
"No doubt about that,” replied Francis. “But holiness is not a personal achievement. It's an emptiness you discover in yourself. Instead of resenting it, you accept it and it becomes the free space where Jesus can create anew. To cry out, ‘You alone are the Holy One, you alone are the Lord,' that is what it means to be pure of heart. And it doesn't come by your Herculean efforts and threadbare resolutions.”
“Then how?” asked Leo.
“Simply hoard nothing to yourself; sweep the house clean. Sweep out even the attic, even the nagging, painful consciousness of your past. Accept being shipwrecked. Renounce everything that is heavy, even the weight of your sins. See only the compassion, the infinite patience and the tender love of Christ. Jesus is Lord. That suffices. Your guilt and reproach disappear into the nothingness of non-attention. You are no longer aware of yourself, like the sparrow aloft and free in the azure sky. Even the desire for holiness is transformed into a pure and simple desire for Jesus.”
Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul ( a story from Brennan Manning).

Yes. Exactly. Peace. 

This is what Jesus said to us in his Risen power; “Peace be with you.” Peace, the Peace that passes all understanding. It is no further away than turning to him in every fear, anxiety, and preoccupation of your life.

I will confess to you a certain agitation of spirit whenever we launch airstrikes in a foreign land. Naturally, the risk of military escalation is always present. Naturally, I am anxious and preoccupied with the prospect of further conflict. Likewise in our political life. The failure of civil discourse and loss of the art of conversation concerns me. 

I feel much like the Psalmist in today’s Psalm; 
“On that we might see better times!” 
Still, notice how the Psalmist deals with this universal lamentation as the prayer continues into the very next verse?
“Lift up the light of your countenance upon us, O Lord.
7 You have put gladness in my heart, *
more than when grain and wine and oil increase.
8 I lie down in peace; at once I fall asleep; *
for only you, Lord, make me dwell in safety.” ~Psalm 4

You see, turn to this Mighty God and find rest for your souls, “for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (From Matthew 11:28-30)

Thankfully we have one another to share our hearts concerns and love, and more thankfully still we can turn to Jesus and come to this altar rail and receive him into our eucharistic family life. Here Jesus becomes known to us in the breaking of the bread. Here we become one in our diversity of life; whoever you are, wherever and whenever you are from. Here we meet and we become one with each other and one with Jesus at this altar rail. 

Look at the extraordinary claims John makes in today’s Epistle. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are… Beloved, we are God's children now” This is what Leo was just coming to understand. Sin is lifted away the more we live into the life that is Jesus the Risen Christ. John explains the reality of redemption in this way; “Everyone who commits sin is guilty of lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he was revealed to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him sins”.

The sin is wiped away and so is all the guilt…but remember this is not your doing or your achievement. Jesus did all that. The love of God does all that. Live your lives there and you will be freed from the power of sin’s merciless, depressing, grasp. Like Leo…you will come to discover this deep and abiding joy; 

“Leo listened gravely as he walked along beside Francis. Step by step he felt his heart grow lighter as a profound peace flooded his soul.”

And so may it be for us all, Amen.

In the Name of God, the Most Holy, Undivided and Everlasting Trinity. Amen.

Fr Paul.