Monday, September 29, 2014

St. Francis And John Muir

Fr. Dale Matson

St. Francis Reclining Statue In Wooded Area Above Assisi

I will readily admit that I am not an expert on either John Muir or St. Francis. Because of my experiences in the Sierras, I am drawn to the writing of John Muir and because of my vocation; I am interested in St. Francis. Muir was essentially self-taught and did not graduate from college. St. Francis never aspired to the priesthood and remained a deacon until his early death at age 45. After a recent visit to Italy, I was struck by the common ground between these extraordinary men. John Muir could just as easily have written an excerpt from The Canticle Of Brother Sun.

“Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Moon and the stars Formed by you so bright precious and beautiful.

Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Wind and the airy skies, so cloudy and serene; For every weather, be praised, for it is life-giving.

Be praised, my Lord, for Sister Water So necessary yet so humble, precious and chaste.

Be praised, my Lord, for Brother Fire, Who lights up the night, He is beautiful and carefree, robust and fierce.

Be praised, my Lord, for our sister, Mother Earth, who nourishes and watches us while bringing forth abundant fruits with colored flowers and herbs.”

St. Francis could have written an excerpt from John Muir’s My First Summer In the Sierra.
“Here I could stay tethered forever with just bread and water, nor would I be lonely; loved friends and neighbors, as love for everything increased, would seem all the nearer however the many miles and mountains between us.”

“It would be delightful to be storm bound beneath one of these noble, hospitable, inviting trees, Its broad sheltering arms bent down like a tent, incense rising from the fire made from its dry fallen branches, and a hearty wind chanting overhead.”

Both of these men led reform movements aimed at restoring human souls and gaining the ear and respect of men over them. Pope Innocent III supported the mission of St. Francis and Theodore Roosevelt supported John Muir’s efforts.  Both were at home in the woods communing with nature. While some would say that Muir was spiritual not religious, I would note that much of the language used by Muir alluded to the unseen hands that created the beauty around him. Muir is most closely associated with the Sierra Nevada Mountains in general and Yosemite in particular.

Townsley Lake In Yosemite

St. Francis led a simple life of poverty but not one of severe asceticism. John Muir’s wilderness travels were outfitted with the bare necessities. Both men rejected the values of their fathers. They were primarily wandering evangelists wanting to reclaim what had been lost.

It is somewhat sad that a humble man like St. Francis who embraced poverty and resisted life in a monastery would be enshrined in an enormous basilica covered with Frescos. It is also sad that John Muir’s followers in the Sierra Club have forgotten their anthem, “Faithful Defender Of The People’s Playgrounds.” Do the people still matter?      

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the week of Pentecost 16 - Proper 21

Bishop Eric Menees

“O God, who declarest thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running to obtain thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

One of the most powerful and haunting movies I've ever seen is the movie Schindler's List. For several years, I watched it twice a year as I showed it to my Ethics class at The Bishop's School. There is one scene in the movie where Oscar Schindler - a self-serving profiteer of the war - comes to grips with the reality of the evil of the Nazis. In that scene, Schindler is speaking with Amon Goeth - a Labor Camp Commandant who is drunk with power and is randomly shooting Jews in the labor camp from his rooftop patio; a course of action giving credence to Lord John Dalberg-Acton's phrase: "Power corrupts: absolute power corrupts absolutely."   

Schindler:     Power is when we have every justification to kill, and we don't.
Goeth:      You think that's power?
Schindler:    That's what the Emperor said. A man steals something, he's brought in before the Emperor, he throws himself down on the ground. He begs for his life, he knows he's going to die. And the Emperor... pardons him. This worthless man, he lets him go.
Goeth:      I think you are drunk.
Schindler:    That's power, Amon. That is power.

This week's Collect captures the almighty power of God who, in fact, has every justification to destroy His creation and simply start over, but instead shows mercy and pity. God demonstrates this first with Noah, in His decision to never flood the earth again (Genesis 8:20-21). God's mercy was shown in the saving of Isaac, the firstborn son of Abraham (Genesis 22). Last week's lesson from Jonah also demonstrated God's character - much to Jonah's displeasure - in saving the people of Nineveh who repented. But, chiefly, God's love and mercy are demonstrated by the sacrifice of His only Son, Jesus Christ, on the cross for our sins.  

Jesus' death and resurrection demonstrate God's mercy, but that does not mean that there are no consequences for sin. We - each and every man, woman, and child ever born - will one day stand before the great judgement seat of Christ. On that day, we will not simply hope for, but count upon, God's character being unchanging. God's character is to show love and mercy - as Jonah so aptly said: "This is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." (Jonah 4:2)  

The question isn't IS God merciful - we know He is. The question is, what will WE DO in response to the gift of His mercy? That is why this collect begs: "...grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running to obtain thy promises, may be made partakers of thy heavenly treasure…."  

O God, in your great love inspire us to be merciful, loving, and gracious to others, as you are to us!  And to that I say...AMEN.

Catechism Questions # 19-21

ARTICLE I: FAITH IN GOD I BELIEVE - Concerning the Creeds

19. What is a creed?
A creed is a statement of faith. The word creedcomes from the Latin credo, which
means I believe.

20. What is the purpose of the Creeds?
The purpose of the Creeds is to declare and safeguard Gods truth about himself,
ourselves, and creation, as revealed in Holy Scripture.

21. What does belief in the Creeds signify?

Belief in the Creeds signifies acceptance of Gods revealed truth, and the intention to live by it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Week of Pentecost 15 - Proper 20

Bishop Eric Menees

“Grant us, O Lord, not to mind earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to cleave to those that shall abide; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”

I am reading - for about the 9th time - the book The Purpose Driven Life, by Pastor Rick Warren. This book begins with one of the best first lines of a book that I can remember (short of "In the beginning..."): "IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU." The book speaks to the primary issue of the difference between being Earthly-minded and Kingdom-minded. Earthly-minded thinking centers on the self, and Kingdom-minded thinking centers on our Triune God!

This week’s collect speaks to the same issue. In it, we petition the Lord to grant us the ability to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and not on the things of this world. This, of course, is nothing new; scripture is full of the call for this kind of single-mindedness. A couple of weeks ago we read: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." (Romans 12:2)  

This week's Gospel lesson - the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard - addresses this same issue. On the surface, this is a story about different laborers who are called to work in the vineyard at different times of the day, thus working for different amounts of time. This difference in time is not the main issue - the issue is the laborers’ expectations of "fairness" or "justice." The first laborers agreed with the Master of the House for a denarius for a day’s labor (the normal pay). Thus, when they see the other laborers coming on to work, their expectation is that: a) they will either be better rewarded than the new laborers, or b) that the newer laborers will be paid less.

This is Earthly-minded thinking: that justice depends on our being equal to, or better than, those around us. And yet Jesus tells the mother of James and John that: "...whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.(Matthew 20:26-28 ESV)

A Kingdom-minded way of thinking places our importance - our needs and wants - second to those of the Lord, and we demonstrate that by serving others. My prayer for you, and my prayer for me, is that the Lord will indeed grant us - at all times and in all places - a Kingdom-minded way of thinking. And to that I say...AMEN!

Catechism Questions 16-18

16. What does God grant in saving you?
God grants me reconciliation with him (2 Corinthians 5:17-18), forgiveness of sins (Colossians 1:13-14), adoption into his family (Galatians 4:5-7), citizenship in his kingdom (Ephesians 2:19-21, Philippians 3:20), union with him in Christ (Romans 6:3- 5), new life in the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:4-5), and the promise of eternal life (John 3:16).

17. What does God desire to accomplish in your life in Christ?
God desires to transform me into the image of Jesus Christ my Lord, by the power of his
Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:18).

18. How does God transform you?

He will transform me over time through corporate and private worship, prayer, and Bible reading; fellowship with Gods people; pursuit of holiness of life; witness toward those who do not know Christ; and acts of love toward all. The first Christians set this pattern as they devoted themselves to the apostlesteaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers(Acts 2:42).

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Seeking God As Beauty And The Mountains

Fr. Dale Matson

Mt. Jordan Behind Reflection Lake Kings Canyon National Park
Click Photographs to Enlarge 

“One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple.” Psalms 27:4 (NASB)

Benedict Groeschel, OFM Cap.  (Priest, Psychologist and Friar) maintains that most of us seek God in one of four ways (Spiritual Passages: The Psychology of Spiritual Development, 1993 Crossroad, N.Y.). He used the saints of the church as examples to illustrate his point. The call of St. Catherine of Genoa was to Unity, St. Francis saw God as the Good, St. Thomas Aquinas saw God as True. St Augustine saw God as Beauty.

St. Augustine had the following to say about beauty. “But what is it that  I love when  I love you? Not the beauty of any bodily thing, nor  the  order of  any  seasons,  not  the  brightness of light  that rejoices  the  eye,  nor  the  sweet  melodies  of  all songs,  nor  the  sweet fragrance of flowers  and  ointments and  spices;  not  manna or  honey, not the limbs that carnal love embraces. None of these things do I love in loving my God.  Yet in a sense I do  love  light  and   melody  and fragrance and  food  and  embrace when  I love my God - the light and the  voice and  the  fragrance and  the  food  and  embrace of  the  soul. When that light shines upon my soul which no place can contain, that voice which no time can take from me, I breathe that fragrance which no wind scatters, I eat the food which is not lessened by eating, and I lie in the embrace which satiety never comes to sunder. This it is that I love, when I love my God.

Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee! For behold Thou wert within me, and I outside; and I sought Thee outside and   in my unloveliness fell upon   those lovely things that Thou hast made. Thou wert with me and I was not with Thee. I was kept  from  Thee by those  things, yet had  they  not been  in Thee, they would  not  have  been  at all. Thou didst  call and  cry to me and  break  open  my deafness; and  Thou didst  send  forth Thy  beams and  shine  upon  me and  chase  away my blindness; Thou didst  breathe fragrance upon  me,  and  I drew  in  my breath and  do  now  pant  for Thee; I tasted  Thee and  now hunger and  thirst  for Thee. Thou didst touch me, and I have burned for Thy peace.” Confessions

East Lake With Mt. Brewer Center Left
Kings Canyon National Park

These mountain places are where I fellowship with God too for it was He who made these things and us also.  It can at times be as intimate an occasion for me as when I proclaim the words of the Great Thanksgiving during the Holy Eucharist.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Bishop's Note: Collect for the Feast of the Holy Cross - September 14th

Bishop Eric Menees

“Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.”
Crosses are an interesting thing. This past weekend I was with the leadership at St. Francis, Stockton, and learned of a beautiful cross given to them by parishioners. It is a "Franciscan Cross" (the Cross of San Damiano, from which Jesus spoke to St. Francis and commissioned him to rebuild His Church). The cross is beautiful - the colors are vibrant, and the figure of Jesus is both haunting and inviting at the same time.

It is one of those truly amazing distinctives about Christianity - that the instrument of death and destruction could be redeemed into an instrument of life and grace. To be crucified was a shameful and very painful death in the first century. The cross was a symbol of the Roman Empire’s domination and rule. When entering Rome, the Appian Way had hundreds of crosses lining the road so that anyone who entered into Rome passed by this very clear threat: "You mess with Caesar, and this is what will happen to you." Jesus, the only truly innocent and perfect man, was wrongfully and painfully put to death on a cross on Mt. Calvary. However, three days later He rose from the dead and that instrument of death was redeemed into an instrument of life.
If memory serves, it was St. Helena, the mother of the Emperor Constantine, who made the journey to the Holy Land in search of relics and returned with pieces of the Cross of Christ. This would have been especially poignant for her, as her son's conversion involved a vision of the Cross of Christ. While the Cross had been associated with Christianity prior to the conversion of Constantine (martyrs often crossed themselves as a witness to the audience in the amphitheater or circus, in order to indicate that they were being put to death for their faith and not because they were criminals), after Helena returned to Rome from the Holy Land the Cross became the single most identifiable sign of a Christian and a Christian Community. One would be hard pressed to find a church that did not have a cross. This transformed symbol of death to life is not worshiped, but is seen as a symbol of God's divine mercy - that by Jesus' death and resurrection, reconciliation was offered to fallen man.
Equally, as we recently heard from our Sunday Gospel readings, Jesus challenges every Christian: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me." (Mt. 16:26)  This is not always a challenge to martyrdom, but it is always a challenge to live a life that is sacrificially offered to the Glory of God, for the benefit of others.

My prayer for you and my prayer for me is that on this the Feast of the Holy Cross, we may marvel in the fact that Jesus died for us - that by his death we have life and we are called to offer our lives for the sake of others. And to that I say, AMEN! 
Catechism Questions 14 &15

1.How may a person repent and place faith in Jesus Christ?

Anyone may repent and place their faith in Jesus Christ at any time. One way to do this is by sincerely saying a prayer similar to the Prayer of Repentance and Faith given above. (John 15:16; Acts 16:31-34; Romans 10:9; Hebrews 12:12)

2.What should you do once you have turned to God for salvation in repentance and faith?

If I have not already been baptized, following proper instruction, I should be baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and thus into membership in his Body, the Church. (Matthew 28:19-20; 1 Corinthians 12:13)