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First Sunday In Lent
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The challenge of safeguarding our environment—both for ourselves and for future generations—can be overwhelming. The threats to “this fragile earth, our island home” are as real as they are legion, and the answers are complex. Sometimes it is necessary for us to focus on one environmental issue to help us get a better picture of the whole. That is what happened this past week as the world observed World Water Day.
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When disaster strikes on a massive scale, such as the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, prayer can seem like a weak ineffectual response. Perhaps this is because the words, “I’ll pray for you,” have been used too often to suggest caring, but without a commitment actually to doing something helpful. But sometimes prayer is precisely the thing that leads to action, and therefore it should not be taken lightly.
From time to time studies have been done on the efficacy of prayer, comparing a “prayed for” group with a control group “not prayer for”. Sometimes the results have been stunning. But just as often we have seen these studies refuted by those who question the methods or assumptions, enough to throw into doubt the empirical evidence of prayer’s effectiveness.
Yet faithful people continue to pray, and not only for those near and dear to them, but also for total strangers, sometimes those on the far side of the world, asking for God’s blessing upon them, or for their healing, or for their consolation. Such prayers seem to open a connection to the ones prayed for, even across the miles. Their suffering is shared by the one praying, in a living demonstration of the word compassion, from the Latin “to suffer with”.
Whatever the ethereal benefits of prayer, at the very least prayer opens the heart of the one praying, creating the very real possibility that action will follow. The fervent prayer of a faithful person is never without consequence.
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Who should eat at our table? The question comes up from time to time among Christians as to whether those who are not baptized should be admitted to holy communion. It is a good question for the Church to debate, especially since some churches, such as our own, routinely offer communion to all who present themselves.
Traditionally, catholic doctrine has interpreted communion as a family meal exclusively for family members. In early days seekers were asked to leave while believers received communion. The thinking was that communion was a sacred meal given by Jesus to his disciples, not to the crowds. Also, as St. Paul taught, communion is not to be taken lightly, and only the initiated can be expected to give it the reverence it deserves.
But many argue that communion ought to be an open meal, offered to all. For one thing, modern Christian congregations are made up of a wide diversity of worshippers, some of whom are not baptized. How will they feel part of the family if they are regularly excluded from the family meal? How will they experience God’s grace if they are kept at arm’s length?
Even more telling, whose meal is it anyway? Is it not God who sets the table with symbols of God’s extravagant goodness? Did not Jesus himself break many social taboos to eat even with “sinners and tax collectors”? Is not the whole point of communion to be a banquet which symbolizes God’s love of all people? Good question.
For an excellent article by Gary Nicolosi on this topic, and an ensuing online discussion, visit www.anglicanjournal.com, or read the article posted on our bulletin board.
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The nature of the question determines the nature of the answer. Ask someone a breezy, “How are you?” and you’ll get a breezy, “Fine.” What else would you expect? The same with asking questions that require only yes or no answers. “Did you like that restaurant?” If you want more, you have to ask for more. “What did you think about that restaurant?” The question now requires an answer that drops a notch or two in terms of detail, and also in depth.
Lent is a time for self-examination, a time for asking ourselves questions that reveal something of the nature of our spiritual lives. If we ask only superficial questions—”How is my spiritual life?”—we’ll get only superficial answers—”Fine.” But if we ask deeper, more probing questions, we might just open up new and rewarding territory for exploration.
A good question to ask at any time, but especially during Lent, is: “What is the state of my soul these days?” Think about it. How do I even identify what, or where, my soul is? How would I know what state my soul is in? What would be the signs? And so we begin turning over in our minds the possibilities.
But there are many good questions to guide our Lenten self-examination. What unfulfilled longing haunts my daydreams? What are the things I feel passionate about? Who do I need to spend more time with? What can I profitably live without? Ask away … and you shall receive.