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Christmas 2007 in Anbar: My Last Mass to Love…

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“It’s my last mass, my last mass to love…”

It’s funny how a slight twisting of the lyrics of a classic Disco song can blend with one’s wartime experience, instead of my last dance, it was my last mass, to love….

I was in Iraq in December 2007 on an 11 day expedition to American advisors to Iraqi Army and Border units in Al Anbar Province toward the end of my tour in Iraq. The mission was to provide chaplain support and spiritual succor to the American soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen and civilians, as well as the Iraqi and other Arab interpreters and contractors serving in incredibly isolated parts of the province near the Syrian border.

For me it was one of the last magical times in my life. I was exhausted and already suffering from insomnia and nightmares caused by PTSD that I was unaware of having, but while I was there that didn’t matter, in fact if I would have been allowed to extend in Iraq back then I would have. It was my life and the men and women that I served mattered more to me than anything. It still does…

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COP South

After a number of visits with other elements we traveled out to a small base near the Syrian border called COP South. It was the location of two teams of advisors, one which supported elements of the Second Border Brigade and one which supported the 3rd Battalion of the 3rd Brigade of the 7th Iraqi Army Division. We were not strangers to either team. Following the vista there we made our way to COP North, also along the Syrian border to do the same for two other advisor teams, one supporting a different Border unit and and the 2nd battalion of the 3rd Brigade of the 7th Division.

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With the Bedouin on the Border, I’m the bald guy without the helmet. 

These outposts were terribly isolated. The men who served there served in incredibly austere conditions where danger lurked just beyond the sand berms that were the boundaries between them and the Islamist extremists of Al Qaeda Iraq and their supporters. The berms were not much comfort to anyone on either of the two most west most COPs in theater. Just to the west was Syria, a haven and support to the Al Qaeda Iraq insurgents and their supporters. All around were Iraqi Sunnis who many only recently had changed their allegiance to support the Americans against the largely foreign AQI forces.

The men that I served were not a typical congregation that you would find in the states. Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Charismatics, Catholics, non-denominational types, Latter Day Saints and even a few Iraqi Christians, some who had not received Eucharist from any priest for years gathered for mass at COP South and COP North that Christmas of 2007. Iraqi Moslems wished us well. Peace on earth in the midst of war.

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At Border Fort Five on the Syrian Border

As I mentioned I was exhausted. We had been on the road, flying and in small convoys of just a few vehicles since we arrived in theater, I was also on my last legs. I had stood with and stayed with the wounded, I had seen the destruction wrought on Iraqi facilities and people by both sides. All that mattered was to get out with the men and women who had no other formal spiritual support. I would have stayed another year to provide that support, but I knew that would not happen.

When they were done and we headed back to Ta’Qaddum, the base that we operated from I realized that the support we had provided was the high point of my military Chaplain career as well as my priesthood. Instead of my “last dance” as Dona Summer’s song said, it was my “last mass” to love.

Since then things have not been the same for me. I have talked and written about this before on this site, but those masses with those small groups of Americans and Iraqis meant more to me than any I have ever celebrated, especially those after my return from Iraq in 2008. For me, the magic and mystery have disappeared. I struggle with faith and belief even as I chose to believe in spite of my doubts.

There are times I wonder if it would have been better to have been killed by a rocket, an IED, an ambush or to have been shot down in Iraq, rather than to have to deal with this seemingly endless crisis of faith and to inflict my shit on those that I love. But then such is life and such is war.

Honestly I have to say that I believe again, but I am not sure why. I have to say that while I believe my doubts encompass me.

Christmas will never be the same for me. Yes, I have celebrated man masses since I returned, but to quote the Barry Manilow song, I’m “trying to get the feeling again” and sadly, despite my efforts I don’t think that will ever happen. If it does I will rejoice. If it doesn’t I will persevere just hoping and praying that feelings and facts matter less than faith and doing the best that I can.

Anyway. I am tired and just hoping that this Christmas will be different and that maybe I will get that feeling again, if not now, maybe someday….

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

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Martin Luther and My Theological Formation: An Old Catholic Priest talks about Luther’s Influence on his Life

The Luther Rose: When they stand under the Cross Christian Hearts turn to Roses

“Grace is given to heal the spiritually sick, not to decorate spiritual heroes.” Martin Luther

When a young Priest and Theology Professor at the University of  Wittenberg named Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses on the door of the Schlosskirche in Wittenberg it changed the course of Western as well as Church history.  He also changed mine.

Martin Luther was the first of a series of theologians that helped make me what I am now. When my Church History professor Dr. Doyle Young and Systematic Theology professor Dr. David Kirkpatrick introduced me to Luther’s writings and his “Theology of the Cross it was earth shaking.  It was his Theology of the Cross brought me to an incarnational understanding of the Christian faith because it is only through the Cross that we come to know God in a truly Christian sense of understanding.  For Luther the Cross was central to understanding the humanity’s relationship to the Trinity, and stands against Calvin whose understanding of God’s will and predestination from before time began tends minimize the Cross, for Calvin it is a mechanism but for Luther it is the most profound and personal revelation of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit. The incarnational and Trinitarian found in the Theology of the Cross also opened for me essential nature of the Eucharist to the Christian faith and which helping bring me to a catholic understanding of the faith.

The relational aspects of the Theology of the Cross were personalized in the Three Solas; Sola fides by faith alone, Sola Gratia by grace alone and Sola Scriptura by scripture alone. These became the hallmarks of the Reformation and without getting into the weeds to dissect all the ramifications for the Church and the world impact the way that many Christians practice and express their faith to the current day.

The Catholic in me tends to discount Sola Scriptura because Luther himself was such an imperfect practitioner of this. I find that the Anglican and Old Catholic triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason is a more Biblical way of understanding what we can understand of God as well as in bearing witness of the self revelation of God in Christ in our world than is Sola Scriptura.

The Reformation which began when Luther posted his “theses” on the door of the Schlosskirche broke the hold of the Roman Catholic Church on Europe brought about many changes. It was the watershed moment when western church unity was fractured forever. As the years passed this increasingly fractured and diverse church in the west and helped end the primacy of the Church over the State.  The Reformation was also essential to the future Enlightenment as educational institutions, philosophers, historians and scientists gained the freedom to operate free from the all pervasive reach of the Church.

In the beginning when he walked up to the Schlosskirche to post his theses Luther intended nothing more than reforming and curtailing abuses in the Catholic Church and how the Church saw grace, faith and scripture.  Instead he changed the course of history in ways that most modern people, especially conservative Christians fail to comprehend today.  If they did they would not be embracing such heresy as the Dominion movement and it’s Seven MountainsTheology.

I did a lot of study on the Lutheran Reformation in and after seminary. In 1996 while stationed in Germany as a mobilized Army Reserve Chaplain had the privilege of organizing a series of Reformation tours to Wittenberg, Worms and Heidelberg.  We went to Wittenberg on Reformation day where we attended the Reformationstag service at the Schlosskirche.   I led a walking tour of the town that day.  One of the parishioners from the chapel asked me if I had been toWittenberg before because I seemed like I knew every place in the town.  I had to tell her that I had not been there in person but because of my study had imagined it so many times that I knew every place by heart.  When we went to Worms where Luther on trial before Charles V was told to recant his writings it as the same, except that in Worms the town hall where the Imperial Diet met was destroyed long ago.  However a stone in the pavement marks the spot where Luther concluding his defense before the Emperor Charles V and the assembled Princes and prelates with these immortal words:

“Unless I am convicted by scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.” It is legend that Luther said the words “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me, Amen!”  These words were probably only added later by someone else to make the story more interesting as they do not appear in the council notes.  Not that Luther would have objected.  The film version is linked here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U0tk_EvWXQQ&feature=player_embedded

Likewise Luther’s debate with Swiss Reformer Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburgcolloquy regarding points of doctrine was significant for me. It was held that they might unify their separate reform movements. They agreed on all points except the Eucharist where Luther enunciated a very catholic understanding of the “Real Presence.”  Zwingli argued it to be a symbolic memorial though he conceded that it might have some spiritual component.   Luther would not budge and to each of Zwingli’s arguments pulled back the tablecloth to reveal the words “This is my body, this is my blood” which he had carved on the table.  They departed without achieving unity, something that has plagued Protestants to this day and when Zwingli was killed in battle when leading the militia from Zurich to fight the approaching Catholic Army.  When Luther heard about the Zwingli’s death he commented Zwingli drew his sword. Therefore he has received the reward that Christ spoke of, ‘All who take the sword will perish by the sword’ [Matt. 26:52]. If God has saved him, he has done so above and beyond the rule.” (Table Talk #1451) When I visitedMarburg with my friend Gottfried in 1997 I stood in the room where the men met and standing at that table I imagined Luther arguing with Zwingli.

Martin Luther helped begin the journey to the Priest that I am now. Others similar to Luther, the Catholic theologian and reformer in his own right Father Hans Kung who was able to do what Luther couldn’t do, make a case for Luther’s theology as part of catholic theology.  Lutheran theologian Jürgen Moltmann has brought Luther’s theology to the modern world and Dietrich Bonhoeffer who showed me an example of how to live out the incarnational message of theTheology of the Cross in a world gone mad.  Kung’s book On Being a Christian, Moltmann’s Theology of Hope and The Crucified God have being influential in my theological formation. Bonhoeffer’s contribution was how that theology is important in standing up to oppression in all forms, his writings including The Cost o Discipleship, Ethics Creation Fall and Temptation, Life Together and Letters and Papers from Prison.  All of these men helped me in my transition following seminary to a moderate Anglo-Catholic to an Old Catholic faith that places a high place to Scripture, Apostolic Tradition and Reason in interpreting and living out the faith.

Of course there are others that have influenced me, the early Church Fathers, Francis of Assisi, John Wesley, Karl Barth and Emil Brunner, Henri Nouwen, Father Andrew Greely  and Bernard Häring to name but a few.  But even so I have always had a special place in my heart for Luther even with all of his flaws which were many.  Luther was earthy, spoke his mind often in a direct and coarse way and had no problem with having fun or good beer.  I relate to him a lot and am in his debt because he helped me become who I am today.

Peace

Padre Steve+


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The Evolving Faith of a Miscreant Priest

“Practically speaking, your religion is the story you tell about your life.” Andrew A Greeley 

Three years ago I had an emotional physical and spiritual breakdown as the life and faith that I had known for many years came apart at the seams as I was overcome with the full blown effects of PTSD a bit over four months after my return from Iraq.  I should have seen the collapse coming as a vainly struggled to maintain control of my emotions, thoughts and faith.  Nothing made sense as I drifted in and out of flashbacks, night terrors and sunk into depression isolated from my faith community which by and large did not understand and other clergy who didn’t seem to care enough to listen.

I tried; I maintained the discipline of praying the Daily Office and reading the Scriptures, I tried to attend church but it was too much. Church with all the people and crowded noisy space with lots of light and sound was too much. I was hyper-vigilant and didn’t feel safe in crowds except at the ballpark where somehow the sight of that magical diamond brought me peace.

June 16th 2008 was the day that the wheels came off. The nightmares, night terrors and flashbacks came together with fires in the Great Dismal Swamp which shrouded the Tidewater in a thick brown haze which looked and smelled like Iraq and a seminar on battlefield trauma.  At the end of the day when the seminar was over my unit Medical Officer looked at me and said “Chaplain are you okay?” I replied in a broken voice “no, I’m not.” I briefly explained what I was going through and he asked if I was safe to go home. When I assured him that I thought that I could make it to the next day he agreed to let me leave and saw me the next morning. After his evaluation he set me up to see a Psychologist at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Deployment Health Center.

Looking back he made the right choice. I was very apprehensive as I had never been to a shrink before though I had referred many service members and their families to shrinks when I knew that I was in over my head.  I was lucky because I got Dr. Elmer Maggard from Hazard County Kentucky. I soon developed a rapport with him because I knew that he was real. What convinced me was when he asked me “Well there Padre how are you doing with the Big Guy?” I hadn’t expected that question because no ministers, Priests or chaplains had ever broached the subject.  I was falling apart and when I brought things up to ministerial colleagues about what I was going through including my assessment of my spiritual life I was ignored.  It was like I was radioactive.  I simply told Elmer that “I didn’t even know if the Big Guy even cared about me or existed anymore.”  He didn’t flinch and he walked with me through the darkness until and after what I call my “Christmas Miracle” in December of 2009.

During that painful and lonely time where I was for all intents an agnostic struggling with faith and even the existence of God it seemed that contact with the Divine was sporadic at best and either came through baseball or the Fr. Andrew Greeley Bishop Blackie Ryan murder mysteries. I had started reading them in Iraq because I was somewhat familiar with Greeley’s writing although I had never read any of the Blackie Ryan series. The first book that I read was The Bishop Goes to the University and others rapidly followed as I rummaged through the giveaway paperbacks in the small MWR library at Al Taqaddum in between missions to the hinterland of Al Anbar Province.

It was the grace and love of God in those books that even in the worst of times gave me a fragment of hope as my life collapsed.  I found in Bishop Blackie a kindred though fictional spirit who embodied what I thought the Priesthood should be.  In those books I came to understand that the grace of God along with the practical expressions of compassion, mercy and love were much more compelling than pounding people into submission with my rather rich knowledge of theology, philosophy and Church history. I also found that they were necessary for me to be healed.

My recovery of faith came unexpectedly much like how it happens to the characters in the Bishop Blackie mysteries.  It came in the middle of giving the last rites to a patient in our Emergency Department at Portsmouth.  The man a physician was a veritable saint whose life and faith had touched his community for over 50 years.  As I prayed the commendation prayers at the close of the rite following the anointing he breathed his last and it was almost if the cloud of unbelief melted away and the realization that God indeed was a God of love and that Jesus was actually to quote the Gospel exactly what his opponents called him “a friend of sinners.” In that moment it was if I had been reborn.

Now since then my faith has been evolving, not that I have surrendered the faith proclaimed in the Gospel or the Creeds but in the way that faith works itself out in relationship to others.  I have to say that it hasn’t been easy and I still have times where I doubt but not like when I was falling apart. I think that the doubt is there to remind me not to become arrogant or exude a toxic triumphalism in my faith or proclamation.  I read something that Greeley wrote which perfectly expressed my understanding of Christian witness going back to the persecuted Catholic Church of the Roman Empire.  “People came into the Church in the Roman Empire because the Church was so good-Catholics were so good to one another, and they were so good to pagans, too. High-pressure evangelization strikes me as an attempt to deprive people of their freedom of choice” or as Saint Francis said “Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” It is amazing the diverse people, many hurt and wounded by war, abuse or even the Church and its ministers wander into my life at work and here on Padre Steve’s World. It doesn’t matter if they are conservative or liberal, Christian or not they tell me that “you’re different” and “I know that you will listen to me.” These people have become my parish. Greeley said it well “I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.” 

I used this site to work through many of the things that I struggled with during the process and eventually that ran me afoul of my former Church, the Charismatic Episcopal Church which through my Bishop asked me to leave in September 2010 because I was “too liberal.”  I knew that it had been coming for some time and had been making preparations and had been working with the local Episcopal diocese but the transition to that church could not be accomplished for at least a year and a half.

I was referred to my present Church, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church an Old Catholic denomination by the Episcopal Church which once again seemed to be a miracle. Though small the Church embodies the faithfulness to the Gospel and the Catholic Faith with an inclusiveness and love of God for people that was exactly what I had become during my “dark night of the soul” and rebirth.  There are still things that I am working out both in the personal aspects of my faith and how it works itself out in life.

But I do have faith again; faith in Jesus the Christ and the Triune God reveled in Scripture, Tradition and Reason and in the lives of the faithful.  This belief is that God is love and is present and active in the world.  This love of God is seen in the Sacraments, the Eucharist and in the lives of those dear to us, our families, friends, neighbors and those that we seem to randomly encounter.  It is shown in the care of people who will sit with us in our pain and doubt, listen, care and lovingly put their arms around us or hold our hand.  It is shown in the faith that others show to us when others are willing to cast us aside, those that see the potential of God’s creation in each of us in a rediscovered love that God is there.

Yes my faith is still evolving but I think that is what Paul meant when he said “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” (Phil. 3:10-12)

Peace and Blessings

Padre Steve+

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A Quiet Alleluia: Padre Steve Celebrates Easter 2011

“Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one’s own search for God, with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join this search but do not know how.”  — Henri J.M. Nouwen

Those readers and friends that have walked with me over the past two years on this site as well as those that walked with me before I ever put pen to my thoughts know how much I have struggled with God and faith since my return from Iraq. Easter has been difficult during that time as was Christmas.  My journey has been marked by many doubts. Today was different. Today we observed a quiet Easter out at the Island Hermitage marked by solitude and community.

The day was quiet and uneventful. I have been writing of late on the Easter story as told by Longinus the Centurion who Church tradition accords the honor of being the Centurion who remarked at the foot of the cross “truly this man was the son of God.”  The Centurions of the Bible have always been models for me as a Christian because they were career military men who served a far flung empire and at in least one part of their careers served in an unpopular occupation of a subjugated land with a proud and unbroken populace.  In their case it was Judea of the First Century and mine was Iraq. The story of Longinus as he is known to Church tradition is one that has fascinated me, a gentile officer of an occupying army discovers God at the scene of a brutal execution which he himself supervised. The story has helped me as I imagined what it must have been like for a Roman Centurion serving in a troubled land ruled by a cabal of corrupt politicians representing Rome, the family of Herod and the powerful institution of the Jewish Temple leadership composed of the High Priest, the ruling Sanhedrin and various religious parties. Likewise the lad featured an undying insurgency dedicated to overthrowing the Romans and what some considered the corrupt administration of the High Priest who they believed to be a collaborator with the Roman occupiers. These were the Zealots.  I was fascinated by the story and the story led me to a deeper appreciation of the Easter story.

We had contemplated going to Camp LeJeune to Mass at the Base Chapel. My friend Father Jose is a wonderful pastor and serves as the base Catholic Chaplain. While it would have been nice to see him celebrate the liturgy it meant that we would do so as strangers in a large community of faith.  Judy and I still both struggle with large gatherings especially where we know very few people and decided that we would celebrate Eucharist together. We were joined in this by my land lady Sharon.  It was a quiet but joyful expression of faith and community where each of us has at times suffered under sometimes cold and unfeeling Church institutions and leaders.

I used the story of Longinus as my homily telling the story in story form rather than as a theological treatise or sermon.  After the homily we confessed the faith of the Nicene Creed, prayed for the church and the world especially the outcast and persecuted and celebrated the Eucharist around my small pine dining room table, which is actually in my living room which doubles a my bedroom. The Island Hermitage is not a mansion.

Later in the day Judy and I would take our little dog Molly on a walk through a park not far from here. The park is a woodland and wetland area on the Bogue Sound side of the island. To walk in those peaceful woods hearing, seeing and listening to the sights and sounds of nature was wonderful. Molly especially loved it as she hunted for some of the deer that she had seen a few days before while walking near the hermitage.  Following that we drove the 2 ½ miles to lands end with Molly’s ears and fur flapping in the breeze as she stood on Judy’s lap with her head and shoulders hanging out the door.  The evening was also quiet as I finished the Easter installment of the Longinus story and Judy made a number of bracelets from her seemingly unending supply of bracelet stuff.

About an hour ago I took Molly on a walk to do her nightly constitutional and as we walked in the dark I looked up into the clear night sky to see thousands of stars.  In 2008 I walked home from church on Christmas Eve looking up into the cold winter night sky wondering if God even existed.  Tonight I looked at the sky and uttered a simple thank you for the resurrection. I know that I believe again. The belief that became real again in 2009 during my “Christmas Miracle” while on duty at the Naval Medical Center is now a quiet and real part of my life and ministry, especially to those who have lost their faith or struggle with faith. It is a quiet alleluia that is now a part of my life again. It is not the same as what I had before and certainly some critics including some in my old denomination have labeled me a liberal, a heretic and even an apostate mostly because I do not agree with their political agenda or narrow and often undemocratic understanding of the Gospel and its social ramifications.  I suppose that should bother me but it no longer does. My skin has become more resistant to such critics and while such criticism from people that I counted as friends still stings in general I am much more resilient to it, obviously the Holy Spirit’s work in the life of this miscreant priest.

Yet I remain a Christian and an Old Catholic and treasure the gift that God has given us in Christ.  The ministry that I have now is different but it is founded upon that faith that people like Longinus discovered that first Easter and I can only say “I believe alleluia!”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Ball Game with Saint Pete

A week after I met Jesus and the team at 7-11 I found out that I was selected to be promoted to the rank of Commander in the Navy Chaplain Corps.  While still in amazed wonderment about that meeting and what happened on the team’s road trip to Dyersville Iowa to play at the Field of Dreams I was caught up in the excitement of knowing that I was among 20 chaplains selected for promotion for the next fiscal year.  That night I went to worship at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish despite being very tired from three busy overnight duty shifts over the preceding eight days at the hospital that I served at as a Chaplain.  The previous night had gone long; a young Petty Officer First Class named Kenneth had died. Kenneth was one of those rare people with no guile. While he served in the Navy he was also an outstanding basketball player and played on the All-Navy Basketball team. He died after a struggle with cancer that had ravaged his formerly massive body, that of a basketball power forward until he looked like a concentration Camp victim at the end of the Second World War. The time with this young man and his family was filled with grace as three Chaplains as well as a number of hospital staff that had gotten to know them over the preceding three months gathered at their apartment outside the hospital gate where he had gone home to die.  It was his desire to spend a few days at home with family before dying and one of the last things that he was able to do was watch game seven of the NBA Championship between the Lakers and the Yankees. The three Chaplains, a Roman Catholic, a Pentecostal and me a miscreant Anglican type all prayed at the bedside and stayed with the family and his body during the holy silence that pervaded the living room.

Later I would spend time with the family of an eighteen month old boy that had drowned and been resuscitated by EMS in down but was certain to die in the next day or two before following up with a dear lady that was in the end stages of heart and kidney failure in our ICU. I’d known the lady, Corrie, a sixty-five year old Filipina and her family over the past couple of years as she struggled to live, but today was different. Nothing more could be done. I was with her and the doctors as they discussed her condition and when she calmly let people know that if her heart stopped again not to try to bring her back. We talked and prayed afterward and she had asked if I would come up to help her write down her story.  Well that had not worked out but I did get to her bedside late making the sincerest of apologies and letting her know what had happened.  Corrie was also one of those dear saints, a devout Catholic that loved God and her neighbors, she was concerned for the families of the other patients and not so concerned about herself. She had faith and was confident that Jesus would have her in heaven because as she said it was his grace and mercy that had allowed her to know him.  I listened to her, sang with her, prayed with her and chatted for almost an hour and a half before going to check on the parents of the little boy and my Pediatric ICU staff before trundling off to the Duty Chaplain Bunk room for a few hours of fitful sleep.  I thought of the people that I had dealt with during the day and how each in their own way had touched my life and saying a brief prayer I laid my head on the bricklike pillows and body down on the devil’s mattress, or the mattress from Hell fell asleep.

After going home that afternoon I received the call from Derek, a chaplain that served as our deputy chaplain at the hospital to congratulate me on my selection. I was thrilled and as I mentioned went with my wife, Judy or as she is known by some the “Abbess of the Abbey Normal” to the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish to see the Tides play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, the AAA affiliate of the Philadelphia Phillies.  It was a terribly hot and muggy night but the game was exciting and as is my custom I took a lot of pictures for my website as I try to write about every Tides game, hoping that someday when I grew up that I might be a baseball writer.  I guess that I am one now except no-one is paying me for it, such is life. As I moved about I spent some time with my buddies, Elliott, Chip and Art the Ushers and each time that I moved up or down from the home plate area where I reside down the first base or third base line to get shots from different angles I would visit with them, talking baseball, life and receiving their congratulations on my selection for promotion.  To them I am the irrepressible Padre Steve and we have a wonderful time together at each home game.  That night was like any night at the Church of Baseball until I noticed a burly man in a Yankees hat with a beard and pony tail coming down the stairs toward section 102. He was showing his ticket to Elliott the Usher, also know by some as Elliott the Enforcer he also has charge over section 100, the VIP section shared by scouts, players, families of team members and visiting VIPs.  That section is carefully monitored by the aforementioned “Enforcer” and the man, wearing a faded Yankees Jersey from what appeared to be the 1930s with the number “3” on the back and a pair of large brown cargo shorts with sandals on his feet walked toward Elliott showing his ticket.

I recognized the man and since I was on the move anyway from the third base side toward first I went up to them.  Having met the man the previous week at 7-11 and knowing that he and the team loved baseball I had wondered of they might make their way back to Hampton Roads.

“Elliott, you gonna let a Yankee fan into section 100?” I smiled as I asked the question. Elliott and Pete both looked over at me, Elliott is about my height but Pete towered over us at a good 6 foot 3 inches outweighing each up us by at least a hundred pounds. Pete smiled.

“Steve from 7-11 right?”  Pete asked as he recognized me with Elliott looking on.

“That’s me” I cheerily answered. I liked Pete, there was something genuinely fun about him a blue collar guy that in addition to going and spreading the Good News also liked to be around regular people and have some fun, after all he had spend his early years as a fisherman and like any sailor was a little rough hewn in his manner.

Elliott looked at us and asked Pete “You know this guy?” to which Pete responded “I sure the heck do, he’s one of our people, you know a baseball fan and Padre to boot.”

“So where do you know each other from?” I asked.

Elliott looked at Pete and Pete looked at me before Elliott answered. “I met Pete up at Fenway back in ’76 when the Red Sox went to the World Series.”

“Yeh, I was in town to see the Yankees play those bums and happened to sit by Elliott, for a Sox fan he’s a pretty good guy and unlike most of those weenies at Fenway he actually understands the game.”

“No kidding?”

“No kidding Padre, that’s how we met, just goes to show that if you really love the game even Red Sox and Yankees fans can sit together in peace, right Pete?”

“You know it Elliott, you know it.”

“So Pete where you sitting?”

“Section 100; row C on the end down there behind the radar gun.”

“Cool I’m right across the aisle in section 102 row B to your right, would you like to go down there with me? How’d you get section 100?”

“Dude, the boss has connections, when I asked him if I could go back and visit this ballpark when we were done in Dyersville he called Dave.”

“Dave? You mean Dave Rosenfield?” Dave is the long time General Manager of the Tides and I chat with him whenever I get the chance.

“Heck yeh Padre, the Boss knows all the GMs, talks to them often, even the minor league GMs. He likes to put in his two shekels with them in discussing prospects; you know that the boss keeps a keen eye on these players don’t you?”

“Well, I figured so, like he does the rest of us right?”

“It’s kind of like that but this is something that the Boss has a passion for, he died to save the world and the world does include baseball, does it not?”

“Well, that’s true, but even though I found out last week that the Boss and you guys liked baseball I didn’t know it was this serious.”

“Padre, this is baseball, it is serious and the Boss takes it seriously, even more serious than Selig, the Grand-Poobah of Major League Baseball.”

“He takes the game serious or Selig serious?” I smiled as I said this triggering a smile back as he replied removing his cap and wiping his brow of the sweat that the hot and humid Tidewater weather causes the human body to produce in mass quantities when not inside an air conditioned building, which Harbor Park, open to the elements as a baseball field should be is not. As he put his cap back on he quipped back to me “the game Padre, Selig he just humors, lets him think that he is in charge, there are times that he thinks about resurrecting A. Bartlett Giamatti.” Pete paused for a second looked up at the press box and continued “but whenever he talks about it he says that he doesn’t want the Dispensationalists to think that the Tribulation has started, the boss seems to think that it would not be helpful even if Giamatti would be better for the game than the Grand-Poobah Bud.”

“I guess that that would cause a bit of a stir if he did that can you imagine all the headlines on ESPN, the in depth interviews and of course the talk show circuit Pete?” I continued not giving Pete a chance to answer “It would be freaking amazing, could you see Giamatti being interviewed on Larry King Live and see if Larry asks him if he will lift the lifetime ban on Pete Rose? Or even better brings up the Congressional hearings on steroids in Baseball?”

“Yep Padre it would be a spectacle and would cause more problems than it would solve, hell Congress would probably want an investigation of how Giamatti came back from the dead and the liberals and conservatives would have hearings that would drag on endlessly and make themselves the center of attention every time a camera was in the room, thank God that Herod and Pilate didn’t have C-Span or the 24 hour news cycle.”

“And people would pretty much ignore the God thing in the story…” said Elliott.

“Well not really except that the Bosses’ involvement in raising someone like Giamatti from the dead so many years after he passed away, God rest his soul, like anything that the boss does would be used by politicians to advance their agenda and dare I say preachers to further their “ministries” or make money by selling books, audio CDs and DVDs that miss the point entirely.” Pete took off his hat and wiped his brow again “sure is hot and miserable in this place, makes me miss the Med, you know that Israel has pretty good weather, a bit dry and hot in the summer but no humidity.”

“I know, I’m originally from California and we had hot weather in the summer but no humidity.”

“Now California, that’s an interesting place,

“You want something to eat or drink?” I asked figuring that it was a good chance to see what the big Yankees fan liked.

“Sure Padre, what have they got?”

“Well Pete lets’ go up on the concourse and take a look.” Elliott looked at us and said to Pete “You’re not leaving already are you?”

“Hey Elliott, you know me would I leave a game before it was over?”

“Well you didn’t get here on time.”

“Elliott you know that’s not fair, I drove in from Iowa and that doggone Hampton Roads Bridge tunnel is for the birds, if I was the boss I would have Moses come in, part the waters and lay down another tunnel like with four lanes in each direction.”

“Now that would be nice, do you think that he could do something with the Downtown too?” I asked as Pete and Elliott chuckled.

“Hey, Padre, let’s go up and get something to munch on, I’m hungry.”

“Sure Pete, what would you like?”

“What have they got?”

“Heck Pete about anything, well anything for ballpark food.”

“So what do you like?”

“I don’t mind a Tides dog with chili and a beer.”

“Tides dog?”

“Yeah, just a grilled hot dog with chili sauce, of course they have the all-beef Jumbo Dog, but it’s a bit heavy for me.”

“So any of this Kosher?”

“Are you kidding, this is a ball Park Pete.”

“True, but one can hope.”

“Besides, Pete didn’t you get the vision from Jesus that all food was cool even if it wasn’t Kosher?”

“I know Padre but you gotta remember my background.”

“I know, even after Jesus told you that all things were clean old dour Paul had to correct you when you were hanging out with some Greeks.”

Pete looked down and shook his head once again wiping his brow, “I wish Luke hadn’t put that down in Acts, not really fair to me, but Luke was Paul’s man, not like Paul didn’t have his faults too, ran off Barnabas and John Mark on one of his trips, but to his credit Luke put that down too” Pete wiped his brow again and continued “I guess that you could say that he was the first “fair and balanced” reporter.”

“Yeah, church politics and the writing of history huh?”

“You know it even then, but old Paul and I did patch things up when he got to Rome.”

We walked down the concourse to the far concession stand down the third base line where my buddy Gerry from Gordon Biersch works with his volunteer organization.

“Hey Gerry!”

“Hey Steve, how are you doing?” said Gerry who is about the same height and build as Pete.

“Gerry, I’d like you to meet Pete, he’s from out of town.”

“Really, where from?” asked Gerry.

“Oh here and there, right now travel around with my boss doing good stuff and getting in some baseball wherever we go.”

“Cool, so Pete are you a Yankee’s fan? I love the jersey”

“Pretty cool, huh? Babe Ruth’s number”

“Yeah, got it special, so what team do you root for?”

Gerry shook his head and gave a slight chuckle “well I’m a Reds and Indians fan, from Ohio.”

“So the Big Red Machine huh? They have a pretty team this year, lots of young talent and they are willing games in the last inning and the last a bat like something I’ve never seen” replied Pete “and I’ve been around quite a while.”

“Me too” said Gerry.

“Partner you don’t even know the half of it” said Pete

“Great, what can I get for you guys?”

“A couple of Tides dogs with chili, right Pete?”

“Can I have a big order of fries too?”

“Sure Pete” replied a very cheerful Gerry since you’re from out of town they’re on me.” Gerry pulled his wallet out and told the cashier that he was getting the fries as I handed over the money for the Tides Dogs.

“Anything to drink Steve?”

“Gerry you know that I don’t drink the beer from this stand.”

“That’s true, we just have the Bud and Bud Lite here, you going across the way to get a Yuengling?”

“Is that good?” asked Pete. Before I could answer Gerry said “a lot better than what I have here.”

“It’s not Gordon Biersch but it’s alright” I replied. “Besides, the crap they serve here is like the wine that they were serving at Cana until the Boss dropped by.”

“That bad huh?” replied Pete as Gerry chimed in “you’re too much sometimes Steve, you talk to Pete like he was there or something” as I simply chucked, and said “Yeah, something like that.”

A lady brought our hot dogs to us and we went and got our beer from the kiosk opposite Gerry’s stand and we began to walk down to our seats once again greeting Elliott on the way down.

“Hey Padre, these are nice seats, you have to pay through the nose and have connections big time for seats like this at Yankee Stadium and the boss won’t cover that, he thinks it’s a bit extravagant and wouldn’t look good on the organization.”

“So he’s not a big fan of high prices that keep regular folks from getting great seats?”

“No, he’s like to see everyone get a chance to sit behind home plate in a big park like that at least once” as he looked at his ticket and sat down across the aisle from me.

“So Pete, so why do you keep calling me Padre? You can call me Steve.” I said as I took my first drink of my Yuengling Lager. Pete picked up his cup and said “cheers Padre” and lifted the cup to his lips drinking the amber lager. “Not bad, we didn’t have much beer back in the day, Judea and the Mediterranean was more of a wine place. There was some beer back then but it wasn’t that good, it took the Monks working for the organization in Germany to get it right” as he took another drink from the cup and wiped beer from his beard “nice beer, I’ll have to tell the boss about it.” Pete paused for a second and went on “good choice Padre.”

“There you go again you can call me Steve, I don’t mind Padre but if you let me call you Pete and not Pope Pete why don’t you just call me Steve?”

Pete looked and me and smiled. “Padre, that’s what you are, it’s who you are, remember that whole Sacrament of Holy Orders thing?”

I kind of felt silly, I like being called Padre, beats the heck out of “the Reverend” or something like that but still having Saint Peter, the first Pope call me that was kind of humbling especially when he had no objection to being called Pete.  “I know that you’re right Pete, but still, you were like the first Pope you really outrank me.”

“Padre, I never paid any attention to “rank” as you call it when I was Pope. Back then it was not really a career or longevity enhancing job, no palace, no red shoes, even though Ben’s aren’t made by Prada like some people say and none of the big hats and stuff like that. If it was up to me the hats that clergy wear would be more practical, I like baseball hats, Matthew kind of likes a Fedora and a couple of the other guys like hats like that Indiana Jones character when the are not travelling as part of the team.”

“Really?” I asked quizzically.

“Oh yeah, back in those days we didn’t have much in the way of vestments and heck I wasn’t in charge of very much, a few priests and deacons and “parishes” if you could call them that pretty much house churches or places in the catacombs where we could celebrate a simple Eucharist and hope that the Roman police wouldn’t show up.  Heck we didn’t even cause anyone any trouble, just no one liked us. Romans called us “atheists” if you can believe that and guys that used to be friends in Judea had no problem turning us over to them whenever they could. Nope, being the Pope was not what it is now, no Popemobile or anything.”

“No Popemobile, that’s just wrong, not even a chariot?” I asked with a bit of humor in my voice.

Pete didn’t catch my attempt at humor and narrowing his eyes blurted out “are you kidding? We didn’t have didley squat” and then realizing that I was being sarcastic he continued, “darn it Padre don’t do that or I will pull rank on you” before taking another drink of his beer “not bad stuff and the dog is pretty good too for ballpark food.”

“Glad that you like it.”

“Thanks, you know there Padre I don’t think I would want to be Pope now, my successor Benedict has his hands full mainly because they try to run the place like a massive government all those bureaucrats and clergy functioning as diplomats and everything but being priests, and it’s not just the Roman part of the church, those guys on TV talking about being happy healthy and wealthy as the crux of the Christian life haven’t got a clue as due the folks that try to get away from the excesses and silliness of those guys and minimalize stuff so much that you can’t tell that you have walked into a church just so they don’t offend anyone. Now we had very little in my day but we did try to keep a sense of decorum and sense that Jesus was with us because he said that he was with us in the breaking of the bread.  I’ll tell you what it shocked the heck out of me when he started talking to us about “eating his flesh,” that my friend chased a lot of the hangers on away.  I don’t know why people that call themselves by the Bosses’ name have to make things so hard, and I’m not even talking dogma and doctrine just living the Christian life, you know that thing that the Boss said about the top two commandments, love God and love your neighbor.  For us that was mind blowing because a lot of the really religious folks in our day were all about rules that made life hard for regular people, just like today and you can be sure that the Sadducees and Pharisees wouldn’t be having a Tides dog and beer with you a Gentile military officer, no way” a brief pause and he continued “no offense intended.” He stopped and looked at me and I replied “none taken my friend.”

Somehow the ball game seemed like it was background noise, Pete was really wrapped up in what he was saying and I knew that he meant every word. He smiled at me and continued.

Of course Padre there are all of those churches that are more interested in promoting certain social agendas from all over the political spectrum than focusing on the top two commandments. They make themselves look like pawns of the politicians rather than the Bosses’ Church.  I tell you Padre there are times that the Boss really does get frustrated with what some of his people do in his name; I think that’s why he spends so much time at ball parks now.” Pete paused for a moment, took another gulp of his beer, wiped his beard and looked at me as he took a deep breath and sighed looking out at the diamond where left hander Troy Patton was pitching well for the Tides and the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs were imploding defensively as the Tides hitters were pounding out hit after hit.

“The Tides, an Orioles farm team huh?”

“Yep, that they are Pete.”

“Well I tell you the O’s are having problems but as a Yankees fan I’m kind of glad because when they get well they will be a pain in the ass to the Yankees, all they need is a first rate manager to get the kids to pull things together and to get that owner of theirs, Angelos is it, to spend some money to get some solid all star caliber veterans to build around and to help nurture these guys along. They do have the young talent, just need the leadership to make it happen, they need another Earl Weaver type of manager to do the job.”

It was amazing to me how Pete went from what he viewed as the problems of the modern church back to baseball so quickly and I realized that he needed this.

About this time Tides outfielder Jeff Salazar smashed a pitch over the right field wall bringing the crow to its feet including Pete who was applauding loudly and as Salazar crossed the plate looked at me and said “high five” before his massive hand slapped my pip squeak hand causing it to sting just a bit. As the crowd continued to cheer Pete reached in his pocket and pulled out a cell phone and looking at me said “just a second, it’s the Boss.”  He put the flip phone to his ear and I tried to listen in just a bit. “Yeah Skip, its Pete, what do you need?” I could not hear what was being said on the other end of the phone just Pete’s responses which were punctuated by his head nodding up and down and words like “yes, okay and sure.”  I still have no idea what they were talking about but it looked serious. Pete then said “I’ll get on it Skip, take care, later.”

Pete looked at me. “The Boss sends his congratulations on getting selected to promotion. You know that he really liked the military people that he met, the professional soldiers like the Centurion and that it was a military guy, Cornelius the Centurion and his family that was the first Gentile family that I got to spend some time with, they were really great folks.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool coming from the Boss himself.” I said.

“The Boss also told me to tell you not to let it go to your head and to make sure that you keep it real.”

“I think that I can do that Pete, after all I wasn’t always a Priest or Chaplain, just a Navy Chief’s kid that has been in the military for a long time.”

Pete looked at me and by the look on his face I knew that he was not done talking. “Padre, the Boss wanted me to let you know that he cares for your dad and for you not to worry about him.”

“Why should I worry, he’s got Alzheimer’s now and doesn’t know me but he’s been medically stable for a good amount of time and last time I talked to my mom she said that he didn’t look too bad the last time that she visited him.” I looked at Pete as he was finishing his beer.

“The Boss just told me to let you know that he loves your dad and cares about him.” The look in his eye was far away. “I remember my dad, a fisherman like me, he was already gone by the time the Boss came into my life, and he just passed away in his sleep one night after a long night and day on the boats on the Sea of Galilee.”

“Sounds like you miss your dad.”

“I do Padre, but I tell you what, we’ll have to do this again. The boss told me that he needs me to come up and see him up in D.C. it seems that he wants some of the team to meet him there conduct some business and take in a National’s game, sure hope that he gets us tickets to see Strasburg.”

“That would be cool, think that I can come?”

“No not this time Padre, but I’ll talk to the Boss for you to join us somewhere on the road, or maybe even back in time. Besides you’re going to have a lot to do soon.”

Pete got up from his seat and patted me on the back. “Take care Padre, be safe on your way home.”

“Pete you take care too.” Pete turned and began to walk up the steps where he shook Elliott’s hand before he left.  Shortly after Pete left I went to Elliott and Elliott said to me. “Padre you have some interesting friends, you have some interesting friends.”

“I know my friend, funny how you knew Pete too.”

“What can I say?” replied Elliott as Pete got to the concourse, shook hands with Dave, said a few words and headed out of the ball park.

“Seems like Pete knows a lot of people huh?” I said as I looked back at Elliott.

“He gets around there Padre, he gets around.”

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Alleluia Christ is Risen!

After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, `He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” Matthew 28:1-10

It is Easter at last and Christians around the world sing the triumphant message “alleluia Christ is risen, he is risen indeed!”  Just as the first disciples walked with Jesus we too have walked with Jesus through the penitential season of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday where we remembered that “we are but dust and to dust we shall return.” With each thing that we abstained from or added to our spiritual discipline we in a small way were reminded that we are to “deny ourselves, take up our Cross and follow.”  In Holy week we experienced the nearly schizophrenic emotions of triumph and tragedy of Palm or Passion Sunday, the solemnity that comes on Holy or Maundy Thursday as we recall the institution of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper and the humility of Jesus as he takes on the mantle of a lowly servant and washes the feet of his disciples.  Leaving that we enter into the suffering of Jesus on Good Friday and see how even his friends betrayed or abandoned him with only a thief on an adjacent cross and the officer in charge of the crucifixion realizing just who was on that middle cross.  We wait overnight Friday and through Saturday in the uncomfortable middle between the crucifixion and resurrection that so often mirrors events in our own life where we sometimes experience what we feel to be forsaken by family, friends, church and sometimes even God.  Yet in the pre-dawn darkness of that first Easter morning we like the disciples awake to find that something has happened, that the stone is rolled away, the tomb is empty and Jesus is raised from the dead crushing sin death and hell.  We are greeted by Jesus who tells us not to be afraid but to go and tell others what has happened.  He greets us on the road to Emmaus and breaks bread with us even as we tell him about the tragedy of his death and then our eyes are opened.  Jesus is the victor and in his death burial and resurrection we have the forgiveness of sins.  The event is also eschatological in that it opens the door for him to return in glory and for him to be revealed in his people For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God;  “for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21

Likewise it is in this series of inseparable events that Christ establishes our redemption by the forgiveness of sins “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8.

It is a universe changing event whereby Christ sets his people free and destroys the power of his enemies. Karl Barth wrote: “Look once again to Jesus Christ in his death upon the cross.  Look and try to understand that what he did and suffered he did and suffered for you, for me, for us all.  He carried our sin, our captivity and our suffering, and did not carry it in vain.  He carried it away.  He acted as the captain of us all.  He broke through the ranks of our enemies.  He has already won the battle, our battle.  All we have to do is to follow him, to be victorious with him.  Through him, in him we are saved.  Our sin no longer has any power over us.  Our prison door is open…when he, the Son of God, sets us free, we are truly free.” This is the redemption that the world awaits, not a redemption that is to be hoarded by believers but a redemption that extends beyond the present redemption for all people, especially those who believe and the people of God are to toil and struggle for this “For to this end we toil and struggle, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10

The Cross and Resurrection are to be a new and purifying wind in the world and the people of God are to be the vehicle for this wind empowered by the Holy Spirit of God.  It is not simply about mastering the art of dying as Socrates did but experiencing resurrection.  Christ did not merely die but he overcame the last enemy which is death itself. (1 Corinthians 15:26)  The power of this is not to be taken lightly in its possibilities for real change for as Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote “If a few people really believed that and acted on it in their daily lives, a great deal would be changed. To live in the light of the Resurrection—that is what Easter means.”

While we live in the reality of the light of the Resurrection we simultaneously live under the shadow of the Cross of Christ as well as the cross that we are obliged by God to carry in our own lives. In the duality and unity of the Cross and Resurrection we have hope and in that hope we are not to be overwhelmed by events in the world that we cannot control.  Nor are we to be consumed by false “gospels” presented by various ideologues of the right and the left who may identify themselves as “Christian” but place their ideologies, social, political, national and economic over the Gospel itself.  Ideologues who quote scripture to buttress their arguments so that their ideology and the “Gospel” are one in the same much as Satan did during the temptation of Jesus to provide a veneer of Christianity to ideologies that are often opposed to the message of the Gospel. Such an idea is much like the message on German soldier’s belt buckles in the Second World War proclaimed “Gott Mit Uns” even as their nation made war on the world and executed an evil ideology of death upon the Jews and others unfortunate enough to be considered the enemies of the Nazi Party.

It is the ideologues who now endanger the Church and Gospel itself for many choose to remain inside the walls of the church and attempt to turn it into a tool of their ideology and in doing so these ideologues measure and evaluate “others only from the standpoint of whether they are supporters of this ideology, or whether they might become such, or whether they might at least be useful to it even without their consent, or whether they must be fought as its enemies. Its glory has already become for him the solution not only to the personal problem of his own life but to each and all of the problems of the world.” But the Cross and resurrection cry out “NO!” to such ideas even when they are drenched with so called “Biblical” support.

The Cross and the Resurrection bring us to life and promise that Christ who died and was raised will come again and in doing so will complete the redemption of the world for which he suffered and died. It is the real world for which God cares for enough to live suffer and die to save, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer so eloquently wrote “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

It is God’s unfathomable love that Easter proclaims as victorious and allows us will all people to cry out “Alleluia Christ is Risen! The Lord is Risen indeed!”

Peace and Happy Easter

Padre Steve+

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Holy or Maundy Thursday….Pausing to Reflect on Communion

Today is Holy or Maundy Thursday, a day where many Churches and Christians take the time within their theological traditions to reflect upon in their worship, the institution of the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper.  Today for me is always special, though the past couple years I was not doing well do to PTSD and other stuff.  This year is different in the sense that I have began to recover that sense of mystery and awe that comes in this celebration.

I grew up in kind of an eclectic faith tradition as a Navy brat. My family was Methodist and I was baptized in my parents and grandparents home church, Southside Methodist Church in Huntington West Virginia.  However living on the West coast we went to Navy Chapels or local civilian churches of various denominations.  During my dad’s time in Vietnam it was a Roman Catholic Navy chaplain who showed us the love of God when many civilian churches made military families unwelcome.  I owe my vocation and faith to that man who took care of our Protestant family.  I remember attending the Holy Thursday Mass at the little Naval Communication station in 1971. There was a sense of mystery and holiness in that service that stayed with me.  When I was in high school I went to a Conservative Baptist church where communion was not observed in the same manner but the Pastor, Reverend Ron Lundy made it special. There was a sense of holiness and thankfulness that I have seldom seen in Evangelical churches since.

When I went to seminary I was attending a non-denominational evangelical/charismatic church.  It was a good church but little emphasis was placed on communion and apart from Easter Sunday no attention was paid to Holy Week. However as a seminary student at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in 1988-1992 before the great purge of moderates I had a number of professors, but in particular my Church History professor Dr Doyle Young took the time to look at how the major traditions within the Christian faith viewed the Eucharist or Holy Communion.   I was acquainted with most in a fairly rudimentary manner Dr Young brought out the really important theological aspects of each in the context of how each view came about.  I always had a sort of Reformed or Presbyterian view of Holy Communion in that unlike most of my Baptist and Evangelical friends I really believed that there was a “spiritual” presence of Christ in communion as opposed to it being a symbolic memorial.  That changed as I was taught the Roman Catholic and Orthodox understandings of the Eucharist but was nailed down as we studied Martin Luther, his understanding of the Eucharist and the discussion between Luther and Ulrich Zwingli at the Marburg Colloquy.  It was Luther’s argument from Scripture “This is my Body, this is my Blood” with which he responded to every argument posed by Zwingli that convinced me of the reality of Jesus’ presence in the Eucharist in more than just a spiritual manner.  I could not ignore Scripture and that was the watershed in bringing me to an Anglican or Anglo-Catholic understanding of faith and the Eucharist.

My purpose here is not to argue for my theological view but rather to encourage Christians to take advantage of the communion that we have with Jesus and through him with the Father and the Spirit as well as the communion that we share with each other.  Though I may believe my understanding of the Eucharist fits best with Scripture and the earliest teaching of the Church I will not use this to attack those who have different viewpoints.  Instead regardless of the theological perspective I hope that my readers will be able to renew their faith tonight as we celebrate this holy evening where Jesus met with his disciples before he was betrayed a Luke the Evangelist wrote:

“When the hour came, he took his place at the table, and the apostles with him. 15He said to them, ‘I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; 16for I tell you, I will not eat it* until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.’ 17Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ‘Take this and divide it among yourselves; 18for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ 19Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 20And he did the same with the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” Luke 22:14-20

And Paul to the Corinthians

“ For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for* you. Do this in remembrance of me.’ 25In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ 26For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” 1 Corinthians 11:23-26

And Saint John’s comments in the Gospel bearing his name:

“This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” John 6:50-51

It is important that no matter whether we view this as a Sacrament or a symbolic memorial that we take this feast of God’s love for us seriously for he comes to us in Word, Sacrament in this moment where we take the time to spend with him and his people as we prepare to celebrate the “Mystery of Faith” “Christ has Died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.”

My prayer is that we all find God’s peace and life during this Easter Triduum of Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday as we walk with Jesus and his disciples through that tumultuous time.  Lent is ended, our seasonal penitence is done so let us take the time to pause remember and reflect of the remarkable depth of God’s love for us in that “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.” As Martin Luther said “For here in the sacrament [Communion] you receive from Christ’s lips the forgiveness of sins, which contains and conveys God’s grace and Spirit with all his gifts, protection, defense, and power against death and the devil and all evils” (The Large Catechism — p. 98).

Another feature of Holy Thursday is the enactment by the clergy of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet. This is important in a world where power and fame is sought after over service to one another, even in churches.  The call of Christ is that we are to be servants of all.

In a world wracked by so much division including Christians who cannot agree on exactly what is going on when we come to the Altar or to the Communion table it is imperative that Christians even given their longstanding differences regarding this would be good to acknowledge their dependence upon God and one another.  If while acknowledging our differences we can at least share in the love and communion of God in Christ even if our individual churches will not share communion with one another. After all in the end it really is about the Lord and his relationship with his people and their relationship with each other and the world that he came to save.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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