Sermon - The Rev'd David Cobb, SCP Chaplain

A Sermon preached at Evensong and Benediction for the Society of Catholic Priests’ Conference

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St Philip’s in the Hills                     

1 October 2019

Commemoration of Remigius

The Revd David Cobb (bio)

Hosea 4:1-10  and St Matthew 7:1-12


In my work with the field education program at Sewanee, I  will often tell mentors and students that I am a far better priest than I might have been because of the seminarians and ordinands with whom I have worked.  Within the society, we are better for working with each other; we are better for praying with and for each other; and we are better for having spent time like these days where we are challenged and invigorated by substantial presentations and by conversations where minds and hearts are open to listen.  It is good to be here with each other.  

We owe this venerable parish a great thanks for hospitality offered so generously.  And though it is part of our obligation as members, we owe each other gratitude that we have made the effort to be present; each one of us encourages and strengthens both the society and each other.  It is good to be here and for God’s grace that gathers us and for all who make this possible, thank you.    

It is not so good to open this conference with Hosea’s words-  “with you is my contention, O priest,  ... because you have rejected instruction, I have rejected you as priests”.   Jesus too, puts things on a more serious footing than you’d like before the opening reception: “Judge not that ye be not judged..”  Hosea describes a community laid waste - at least in part - by faithless priests   When we would begin listing whom among our colleagues we thought “rejected knowledge’ -  Jesus pulls us to a stop. Judge not.   And thanks to the lectionary, that Word gathers us tonight.

This conference will ask us to think long and hard about borders-  political borders that define countries and become flashpoints- borders created and maintained by force - economic or military-  borders of culture that are harder to cross because they can be subtle. All of us have heard much of these borders these last few years and now it is good that we actually engage with people whose lives and work unfold at the border.  It is a reality, not an idea and there are people’s lives caught up in what can simply become political rhetoric. It is always good to move from the theoretical and general back to the tangible and specific.   

There are of course borders between us-  the people I know and don’t know - those who favor full English surplices and those who wear lace-  maniple or biretta, Rite I, EoW, Rite II. Judge not, but we do have opinion,   There are borders among us and our gatherings require us to recognize where we stand and to recognize who stands closer and farther from us.  It is not a theoretical question to ask if we intend to reinforce or to soften those divisions. Whenever we engage with others- if we are willing to see others- and be known- not simply to play a role or cast someone in an expected role-    we are opening and closing borders.      

Borders do define us-  we are mortal, limited people who live in a concrete world and with patterns and habits.  We have commitments and relationships that define us, it can not be otherwise. Here, we gather as a particular community, with a shared identity and ethos claimed or taken for granted.    What is this space we create? What is its purpose- how does this society’s life strengthen each of us? Answer that question, and then we can say how this distinct community serves the larger Church  Then we can name our part in the Church’s effective witness beyond its own borders.  

Remigius, whom we remember today, stood at the borders of pagan and Christian, within the Church between heresy and full commitment to the mystery of the Incarnation.  Because of his work and the work of Cotilda who married a pagan, Clovis was baptized - and with him, almost all of Europe came to the Font. Remigus taught and converted across a boundary- and Cotilda built a marriage on a fault line.  Because they reached across that border- the Church reached farther and because Remigius maintained the full teaching of the Incarnation, the Church that took root was set firmly within the boundaries of catholic teaching and the creeds. 

There are our borders-  the ones that are helpful and the ones that are not- and there is the fullness of God’s mission working within and  beyond our communities and commitments, in the Church and throughout the world. We need to remember that part of our Society’s charism is the  border crossing work of evangelism: to speak clearly and with conviction so that others hear and find their way to faith in Christ and to life within the grace of the sacraments.   Within the borders of the society, we are called to the life-giving work of friendship and collegiality. Within our own lives, we are called to obedience and clear self-awareness.      

Hosea is trying to create a border,  perhaps you might say to build a wall that will shelter his people from the calamity flowing from their faithlessness.  The priests have rejected knowledge; not simply information or even the people’s lore, They have rejected an active and living relationship of listening and obedience towards God and faithful witness to God’s word.   Reject that, and priesthood is a barren work; reject that and you let communities drift or plunge into self-aggrandizement, follow dishonest leaders, imagine false borders and create ungrounded fear- and the community is in disarray.     “You have eaten and are not satisfied- you have played the harlot and have not multiplied”  Hosea wishes to recall us from fruitless, lifeless play at procreation and from the false and misleading chatter of those who reject knowledge, as their communities wither.     

Maybe its not a bad passage to begin our  time together pondering borders, our priesthood, and the Church our priesthood is meant to serve.

Jesus sets up some clear boundaries as well.   Judge not, Jesus says- and mind the log in your own eye before you reach towards your neighbor’s speck. Jesus sets a firm border that should turn me back to self-examination when I would rather deflect and point the finger.   It might be far more fun to poke around in someone else’s life and ministry, to point and shake the head scornfully- but Jesus leads us firmly back within this border.  Tend to you own clouded vision and judge your own faithfulness. If you want to judge, do it one the right side of the border, the side where you stand.    

We do need to cross the borders between us  once we have done the work required closer to home.  And there we stand with each other to do the work that builds up what is good in each other;  to share, as honestly as we can what we have found and gained in those moments when we did not reject knowledge.  We need to cross the borders between us and learn from each other.   

Whatever stands between us  and whatever border there is between us and the larger Church,   our Society is a place where we remember once more what pearls, what a holy inheritance we carry and we learn to ask and to seek for God’s grace and to knock more confidently on the doors of the kingdom.   

We are better for doing that .  I am stronger through your growth as a priest and christian, and if I falter in my call, that is a loss to more than just myself.  The Society is meant to teach each of us how to mature as Christians and to grow as priests and to do that for each other as much as we do it for ourselves.   If there is a tight border where judgement is appropriate, there is a much broader border where collegiality and friendship offers instruction and answers deep longings.  This society to be a place and community apart, but apart for the good of the larger church and the world to which the Church is sent.  

We have been given these days and we are gathered in this place so that we  see better the borders that God is opening through grace and mercy, to know better the borders between us that should not be, to know the borders that keep us close to Christ and faithful to our mission.    This all brings us to ask and seek, to knock and to stand expectant, when God’s mercy overcomes the borders between us and, most wondrously, between this world and God’s Kingdom, where even that final and seemingly impenetrable border is no more, when death is no more; because Christ is all in all.  

The Daily Office

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In this blog post, The Rev’d Melanie Rowell, SCP, responds to these questions:

What has praying the daily office done for your spiritual life? What is your favorite or preferred way of praying it (e.g., online, straight from the BCP,  at church, apps, etc.)?

My relationship with the Daily Office began in seminary, in particular with Morning Prayer. I confess that it really wasn’t a priority or practice before then. I can honestly say that I cannot remember a priest ever mentioning its importance . . . a sad fact and something that desperately needs to be remedied. At Sewanee School of Theology, Morning Prayer began at 8:05, about 45 minutes before class started. Most of us had class first thing in the morning, so it wasn’t that much harder, after dropping kids at school, to make it to MP. Getting to Evening Prayer was less reliable, as I was so often a geographically single parent on the Mountain and had to pick up children at the same time EP occurred. Still, the rhythm of Morning Prayer was indelibly set into my spiritual psyche.

Once I graduated, however, I had no Morning Prayer to attend. Suddenly, I realized that I had to make it work for myself. I tried different ways and failed. When I had to use the BCP on busy mornings trying to get the family out of the house for school, I found it was just too much! But . . . what I finally realized is that I could do it on my terms and when I had time—as I got ready for my day or getting ready for bed. It’s one of the few times during my day that I’m a captive audience. Rite I is my go-to, and I found that the easiest way was online. Thanks to St. Bede's Breviary, I could pray the Rite I Daily Office in the “High Church Prayer Book” style, with elements for Our Lady. This was gold for an Anglo-Catholic: I could pray MP and EP my way with the convenience that the internet provides at the click of a button. Soon I was not only praying the office, but also the Regina Coeli, the Angelus, and other spiritually rich additions, along with commemorations of saints that St. Bede’s provides when you choose the “Amplified” option. As a Lower School Chaplain and mother of two girls still in school, St. Bede’s is a Godsend. I can pray MP and EP whilst getting ready for my day or right before bedtime.

Praying the office has revolutionized my spiritual life. The repetition of Canticles such as the Magnificat remind me of God’s faithfulness. Reading the various appointed Scriptures gives me an opportunity to read a wide swath of the Bible. This is exceedingly valuable when I have to preach: it reminds me of verses I might have forgotten about and gives me context for Scripture as a whole. Praying the office is not always exciting—I’ll be honest, some days, I don’t want to do it! But it has been my rock, a constant source of encouragement, inspiration, and hope during the times when things haven’t been going so well. I cling to it, and the words of these Canticles, Psalms, prayers, Scriptures, etc., stay with me throughout the day. If you’re not doing it, or you’re doing something that’s not working, try St. Bede’s or one of the other online options or apps! There are many options and settings, so no matter what your preferences, you’re bound to find something that works for you.

The Rev’d Melanie Rowell SCP, is chaplain at Holy Innocents' Lower School in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as Assisting Priest at St. Columba's Episcopal Church in Suwanee, Georgia. She serves as Secretary of the Provincial Council of the Society of Catholic Priests of North America.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation

In this blog post, The Rev’d Sinclair Ender, SCP, responds to these questions:

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How has the Sacrament of Reconciliation changed you, both as a confessor and as a penitent? Why do you think making use of this Sacrament is should be a part of a priest’s Rule of Life? What are the qualities of a good confessor?

For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. ~Psalm 51:3, KJV

As I reflect on the season of Easter, and the joy of life in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus, it is not lost on me that we first made our journey through darkness and death before being able to claim new life in Christ.  It was through first keeping a holy Lent that we are now enjoying a holy Easter.  Reflecting on these two seasons of the Church year, I see the sacrament of the Reconciliation of a Penitent as modelling death to newness of life; it participates in the paschal mystery—the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

 I recall that during Lent, my own self-reflection on Psalm 51 and reading the “Exhortation in our Book of Common Prayer (pages 316-317) led me to think that it would be good for me to schedule an appointment with my priest-confessor.

 I love the sacramental act of penitence, where I go before God with one of His ministers, and lay bare that which is holding me back from right-relationship with God, others, and often enough, myself.  These are the things that I have to let die in myself, so as to find abundant life.  It is when I acknowledge my transgressions that I then receive the forgiveness of God—not as a general truth or vague experience, but personally, immediately, and actually.  After making a good confession, and having absolution pronounced, I’ve always experienced a sense of the newness of life in Christ.  Sacramental confession is great!

 As Anglicans and Episcopalians, we have no specific requirements in our doctrine or disciplines that one must make a personal confession.  Our Anglican saying of “all may, some should, none must” holds true.  All the same, those who do make use of this sacramental rite allow for the forgiveness of Jesus to take hold of them in a living way, which I have yet to experience by any other means. 

 So, if you find that there is something weighing you down or holding you back from fully experiencing the joy of this Easter Season, I invite you to “go and open your grief to a discreet and understanding priest, and confess your sins, that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith” (BCP, 317).

The Rev’d Sinclair Ender, SCP, is curate of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Davenport, Iowa.

Living a Eucharist-centered Life

By The Very Rev’d Craig Loya, SCP

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At the cathedral where I serve as dean, the Holy Eucharist is celebrated several days every week, in addition to Sundays, and on every major Holy Day. The weekday liturgies are not particularly well attended. There are usually fewer than five people, and it’s not unusual for only the priest and the lay server to be present.

When I first arrived, a big part of me resented these liturgies. On more than one occasion, I was ready to discontinue the practice altogether. I am too busy to get everything done already, I thought, so how could I justify spending thirty minutes celebrating the Eucharist with just a few people? What an inefficient use of my limited time!

A woman who was just beginning the process to become a deacon when I arrived reminded me that the only reason she found our congregation is because, in a moment of personal crisis, when her brother was in the midst of a surgery that did not appear to be going well, she found that we had a noon mass, and joined us to pray. That experience, and the welcome she received, helped lead her to where she is today: a deacon serving the poor and forgotten in the name of Jesus every day.

Our most dedicated and reliable congregation attends on Fridays. These four or five people have attended, almost every Friday, for several years now. Before beginning the practice, none of them knew each other. Now, they have come to share their lives in the deepest ways with each other. Two recent widowers have lunch together after every single Friday mass, and they all keep close tabs on the ninety-seven year-old woman who attends, offering spiritual and concrete assistance for her and her family.

These people, along with my commitment to the SCP Rule of Life, are the main reason I never abandoned the practice altogether, and slowly, over the years, these celebrations have become a spiritual anchor for me, and a critical way that I seek to keep the SCP vow to of centering my spiritual life on the Eucharist.

As a disciple, the noon mass interrupts my day with all of its busyness and worries, and calls me back to gratitude, the fundamental spiritual posture for a disciple of Jesus. The Eucharist, the Great Thanksgiving, gradually shapes our souls to engage every moment, every task, every encounter, from a place of deep gratitude for all that God has given. The practice of almost daily Eucharist helps me focus on God’s grace, abundantly given, rather than on my own needs and shortcomings.

As a priest, the mass reminds me who I am and what I am for. When I have to stop my day to say mass, I am reminded that the God's mission doesn't depend on my efforts, and the Church is not, finally, about my successes or failures.  God's mission in the world depends entirely on the power of God's Holy Spirit, and my job as a priest is to offer myself, my labors, and the people in my care over fully to that mission in the world.

As a cathedral in the center of a city, the Eucharist is the heart that beats day in and day out for the life of our city and diocese. On numerous occasions, a random stranger has appeared at one of our noon masses, just like the woman who is now one of our deacons, telling us later that they stumbled upon our little place of prayer and quiet and just the critical moment. Whether all the people who walk hurriedly past our building every day on their way to their busy and important jobs know it or not, our daily masses help ground our neighborhood, our city, and our diocese in the current of God’s mercy and love that flows along gently just beneath the surface of our lives.

Returning to the noon mass, when I feel like it and when I don’t; when I’m too busy, or too bored, or too lazy; when I’m too anxious, or too satisfied with my own efforts; in good times and bad times, reminds me that, in all those moments, come what may, God is faithful to me, to the Church, and to the whole world Jesus died to save. So now, I thank God every day for the great gift of standing in God’s house, and swimming in that river of love.

The Very Rev’d Craig Loya, SCP, is dean and rector of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Omaha, Nebraska.

#TractSwarmSeven: Priestly Formation-Insight From the Trenches

At the recent SCP Annual Conference in Atlanta, we engaged in deep theological reflection on various facets of priestly formation. This discussion included the content and structure of seminary education, new models for academic preparation, and the spiritual formation of priests in habits of holiness.

Continuing the momentum of the conference, we are inviting current seminarians and recent graduates to offer their personal insights on the needs, challenges, and opportunities on any aspect of priestly formation. For those who attended the Atlanta conference, we would also greatly value your feedback on your experience of the conference as a seminarian or newly ordained clergy.  More seasoned clergy are also welcome to submit their blog postings reflecting on our conference theme too.

Posts:

 

#TractSwarmSix: Preaching the Context

We are living in unsettled and disturbing times marked by unrest, violence, and calls for justice for the marginalized. As clergy, we have an obligation to be a voice for Christian justice, peace and mercy. In a world where moral conscience is now largely left to individuals, how does our preaching address these issues?

Our SCP members have been preaching about justice within the context of Catholic spiritual and moral teaching. We invite our members to share recent sermons in this #TractSwarm series on Preaching the Context.

Posts:

Mtr. Lizette Larson-Miller – Proper 10C Sempersacramentalis
Fr. Anthony Hutchinson – Proper 7C Ellipticalglory
Fr. Bill Carroll – Proper 10C Emmanuel Shawnee

#TractSwarmFive: Fasting-A Catholic Tradition

For our Fifth #TractSwarm, we are asking for your thoughts on the practices of “fasting and self-denial.” Why is this important to the observance of a holy Lent? What are the purposes of focusing on these practices? How can we practice fasting beyond the obvious ways involving food? What is the relationship between fasting and feasting – particularly surrounding those Sundays “in Lent” but not “of Lent”?

#TractSwarmThree: On Prayerbook Revision

It is a most invaluable part of that blessed “liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free,” that in his worship different forms and usages may without offence be allowed, provided the substance of the Faith be kept entire; and that, in every Church, what cannot be clearly determined to belong to Doctrine must be referred to Discipline; and therefore, by common consent and authority, may be altered, abridged, enlarged, amended, or otherwise disposed of, as may seem most convenient for the edification of the people,” according to the various exigency of times and occasions.” ~ Preface to the BCP, page 9

On the Way of Indirect Achievement

As a former Benedictine monk I am probably a little biased, but I believe that we as Anglo-Catholics have a great deal to learn from the vision of Christian life set out in St Benedict’s Rule. No less august a supporter of this Society’s outlook than the Rt Rev’d Rowan Williams, former Archbishop of Canterbury, has commented on the Benedictine flavor (or perhaps more appropriately “flavour”) of the Anglican way.

Anchor and Visionary: Models for Church Leadership

Recently I was asked to prepare some remarks for a continuing education conference I attend every year called, “Gathering of Leaders.” One of the very great things about this conference is that while the year’s theme is decided by a governing board, the content of each “Gathering” is user driven. This year, I was asked to prepare remarks for a “Returnee’s Panel,” wherein I and two others who had attended several “Gatherings” would offer our thoughts to first-timers on why we keep coming back. While my talk was given without a manuscript, this is more or less a written adaptation of what I’d said.

Eating Fruit Where We Are: Or, How Saying the Mass Can Save the World

The hope of the SCP, as I understand it, is to cultivate priestly vocations deeply rooted in the Catholic habitus of Christ’s Church in the hopes of better sustaining the clergy of the Church and renewing the apostolic zeal to restore all things to God in our Lord Jesus Christ. For such a noble task to be successful, it’s important to know where we are. Proper cultivation requires careful attention to place. So, to get a handle on where we are, let’s consider two figures: the fire and the tree.

Liturgy Moments: A Creative Approach to Liturgical Catechesis

One of the greatest challenges that many of us clergy face in today’s twenty-first century society is time.  We no longer live in a society in which Sunday is honored as a day of rest, at least not here in the Mid-Atlantic area.  It is no longer unusual, in fact rather typical, now for people to work on Sundays.  Schoolchildren will often have athletic events, preparation classes for standardized tests and community service activities to do on Sundays.  Furthermore, with the rest of the week so packed with activities, Sundays become the overflow day.  These hectic schedules and over-programmed lives make our task as clergy much more difficult.  Oftentimes, we rejoice simply to see people show up on Sundays for our primary worship services.  The extra commitment required for formational activities seems nearly impossible.

 

Reclaiming Evangelism in the Episcopal Church

When I was a teenager in the Churches of Christ, I remember being trained on door-knocking. Most people are familiar with this method of evangelism, though most often it is simply described dismissively as a  joke, rarely seen as a faithful way of bringing the gospel to people. However, for the tradition in which I was raised was raised, as well as for others, it is an essential way of casting your evangelistic seed wide, like the parable of the sower.