Tag Archives: priest

12 Steps of Christmas | Holy Innocents

Step Five – “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.”

The readings for the Eucharist on the Feast of the Holy Innocents can be found here. Additionally, the Gospel reading appointed for Morning Prayer is here.

This doesn’t feel like Christmas!

Having confronted the darkness inside us with John yesterday, we confront a ruler’s murderous rage and the killing of innocent children today.

Gentle Jesus, meek and mild, sure stirs up fierce reactions in us and in the society around us.

But as we considered in Step Four yesterday, we have done a lot of stirring up ourselves — causing grief and pain within ourselves and harm to those around us. Our moral inventory is a long list of the wrongs we have done to ourselves and to others.

holy-innocents-rachel-weeping

Today, Step Five invites us to take the next critical step in admitting our faults. We must talk to someone about them.

So intense, though, is our fear and reluctance to do this, that many A.A.’s at first try to bypass Step Five. We search for an easier way—which usually consists of the general and fairly painless admission that when drinking we were sometimes bad actors. Then, for good measure, we add dramatic descriptions of that part of our drinking behavior which our friends probably know about anyhow. But of the things which really bother and burn us, we say nothing. Certain distressing or humiliating memories, we tell ourselves, ought not be shared with anyone. These will remain our secret. Not a soul must ever know. We hope they’ll go to the grave with us. (55)

Along with good insight about the importance of spiritual counsel, Step Five also highlights two difficulties we will face in the process of making our confession real — for that is what we are talking about — and then of understanding what we must do next.

The first difficulty

Many people think they understand confession in a religious sense, but we too often caricature the worst examples of each other’s positions.

In the Roman Catholic Church, largely because it comprises half of the world’s Christians, the problem with confession to a priest — basically what Step Five is describing — is the sheer volume. If everyone really ought to confess before they go to Mass on Sunday, then priests have to hear too many confessions to make them very personal at all.

Until we actually sit down and talk aloud about what we have so long hidden, our willingness to clean house is still largely theoretical. When we are honest with another person, it confirms that we have been honest with ourselves and with God. (60)

Confession, or seeking the advice of a spiritual director, can have the benefit of making real the spiritual forgiveness we are promised in Jesus Christ. More than just going to the confessional booth, though, this may need to be a longer conversation with a priest or director.

Sometimes we simply need to say our sins out loud; and sometimes we simply need to hear from another person that we are forgiven before we can really believe it.

The second difficulty

For Protestants, the understanding that one has direct access to God through Christ, without the need for a human mediator — while true — may mean that Christians do not avail themselves of spiritual counsel and the assurance of forgiveness given by another human being

The second difficulty is this: what comes to us alone may be garbled by our own rationalization and wishful thinking. The benefit of talking to another person is that we can get his direct comment and counsel on our situation, and there can be no doubt in our minds what that advice is. (60)

While many Protestants participate in regular Bible studies or in accountability groups, simply talking about your struggles and getting advice from people close to you may not have the sacramental “heft” that enables you to believe Jesus’ assurance that you have been forgiven.

What must we do?

The Gospel reading at Morning Prayer is an example of “prophetic hyperbole” — Jesus is using exaggeration in order to make a point.

But Jesus’ point is clear: we must be bold and decisive in admitting our wrongs and working to eliminate them from our lives.

If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life maimed or lame than to have two hands or two feet and to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Matt. 18:8-9)

Step Five couldn’t support this notion more fully:

Provided you hold back nothing, your sense of relief will mount from minute to minute. The dammed-up emotions of years break out of their confinement, and miraculously vanish as soon as they are exposed. As the pain subsides, a healing tranquillity takes its place. And when humility and serenity are so combined, something else of great moment is apt to occur. Many an A.A., once agnostic or atheistic, tells us that it was during this stage of Step Five that he first actually felt the presence of God. And even those who had faith already often become conscious of God as they never were before. (62)

So the process of speaking to another person about our wrongs gives us the opportunity to turn and make a new start on our lives.

But on this feast day of the Holy Innocents we must also be mindful that making Step Five also commits us to undoing the harm that our actions have brought to others — the process of making amends that is the subject of Steps Eight and Nine.

May your new start — begun with the honest admission of your wrongdoing — give you the strength to continue making the changes that are ahead of you.

As for me, I will live with integrity;
redeem me, O Lord, and have pity on me.

My foot stands on level ground;
in the full assembly will I bless the Lord. (Ps. 26:11-12)

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The Ember Days: So what?

im_shrimp_tempura

The Ember Days are a strange item on the Church’s calendar.

They are “traditionally observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the First Sunday in Lent, the Day of Pentecost, Holy Cross Day, and December 13” (BCP 18).

The name comes, most likely, from the Latin Quatuor Tempora, or “four seasons,” so the Ember Days mark the four seasons of the natural year rather than seasons of the Church year.

Various sources link the Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday observance to the early Christian practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays attested to in the Didache (ca. 60 AD) and to the Roman practice of fasting on Saturdays, too.

Since Pope Gelasius I instituted the practice in 494, it also became customary for the Ember Days to serve as days for ordinations. The faithful would join the ordinands in fasting on Wednesday and Friday, and the ordination would happen (as is still pretty common) on Saturday.

This association with ordination is expanded upon in the Episcopal Church’s Book of Common Prayer, and now the three collects appointed for the Ember Days (BCP 256) invite us to pray for:

I. Those to be ordained

II. The choice of fit persons for the ministry, and

III. For all Christians in their vocation

To mark these days in the Daily Office, it would be natural simply to use the first collect on Wednesday, the second on Friday, and the third on Saturday. You will notice that the third collect is the same as one of the Prayers for Mission (BCP 100) that we use regularly in Morning Prayer.

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So what? Why should we care about the Ember Days?

Well, let me bring it closer to home and give you some examples.

I am a member of the Commission on Ministry (COM) here in the Episcopal Diocese of Fond du Lac. Our job is to assist the bishop in the following ways:

  • to determine the present and future needs for ministry in the Diocese
  • to provide discernment processes for parishes and individuals seeking to identify and use their gifts in ministry
  • to provide continuing education for all people, lay and ordained, in their ministries
  • to support the development of the ministry of the laity in the Diocese and within parishes
  • to identify persons for Holy Orders, and to guide and examine seekers, aspirants, postulants, and candidates for the diaconate and priesthood in their journey toward ordination

Four times a year, the Ember Days specifically focus not just the COM but the whole Church on praying for all Christians in their vocation.

Today is Ember Wednesday, so we pray for those to be ordained. In our case, the next ordination in the Diocese is that of Fr. Matt Gunter, who will be ordained as our new bishop on Saturday, April 26. Today I pray not only for him but also for all who are working to make that ordination service a celebration of our life and ministry here in northeastern Wisconsin.

On Ember Friday, we pray for the choice of fit persons for the ministry. The COM just began offering a group discernment process called Circles of Light for all who are interested in seeking God’s will for their ministry, and of the 10 people in the group two think they might be interested in the diaconate and two in the priesthood. I’ll pray especially for those four people this Friday.

On Ember Saturday, we pray for all Christians in their vocation. This Saturday, I’ll be with the young adults of the Diocese at a Happening weekend, and I can’t think of a better time to pray for vocation than with high-school age Christians.

Who might you pray for during this Ember Week?

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Bonus Ember Day trivia!

I am deeply grateful to Michael P. Foley’s article on the Ember Days for this delicious — and I mean yummy! — bit of trivia:

Even the Far East was affected by the Ember days. In the sixteenth century, when Spanish and Portuguese missionaries settled in Nagasaki, Japan, they sought ways of making tasty meatless meals for Embertide and started deep-frying shrimp. The idea caught on with the Japanese, who applied the process to a number of different sea foods and vegetables. They called this delicious food—have you guessed it yet?—“tempura,” again from Quatuor Tempora.

So next time you’re out for sushi, take a moment to pray for those about to be ordained, for the choice of fit persons for the ministry, and for all Christians in their vocation. You’ll be glad you did.

Thanks for reading!