Facebook reminded me of a post I wrote three years ago. I think this is still true.

In the past few weeks I have returned to thinking about radical inclusion and unconditional hospitality. Here is an excerpt from a reflection that I wrote on this theme several weeks ago:

I have spent a good deal of time contemplating the possibility of a new reality—that of “unconditional hospitality.” In part this flows out of my own deep commitment to hospitality as I see it exemplified in the reality of the Apparitions by Our Lady of Walsingham to Blessed Richeldis in 1061. It also flows from the deep Benedictine Monastic commitment to “receive every guest as Christ.” Finally, on the most basic and fundamental level, it is a desire to be like Our Lord who loved and welcomed everyone without question or hesitation—fully knowing that not all who loved him (or who opposed him) would be able to accept his actions. He certainly paid the price for his actions!

It seems to me that the basic problem is that we begin in the wrong place. Rather than thinking or worrying about community and how community will deal with or handle all this (and what price they will pay for their openness and inclusion in the wider communities in which they live, move and have their being), we ought to start with a more basic question: “What is God calling this person to be, and to do?” And that has nothing to do with gender, race or sexual orientation or gender identity. It flows from the heart-held conviction that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and that “all the Sacraments are for all the Baptized.”

The difficulty is the conflict between “ideals” and “the real world.” It is easy to speak of what “should be.” It is an entirely different matter to make it happen. Real community takes a lot of work and at times can be difficult—even painful! A metaphor which has helped me to understand that over the years also came from an old monk. “Being in a community is like picking up a bunch of pebbles along the road. If you put them in a sack and tie it to your belt, as you walk along they will bump together. Over time they will knock of all the rough edges and become smooth.” Of course that means that all the stones will have to loose their rough edges—even mine! That is never a pain-free process for any who are involved in it.

So perhaps the most helpful question then is “What might a community look like if it more fully expressed the actual membership of the Episcopal Church?” There would be women and men; young and old; rich and poor; people from numerous cultures and ethnic groups—speaking various languages; people who are heterosexual or homosexual or intersexual; people who are married, in a relationship, single or celibate; people who are struggling with all kinds of messy personal, professional and family issues; people who are lonely, confused and frightened; and people who are flawed and sometimes needy. And yet they would be united in an attempt to encourage, support, and love each other.

“O Blessed Lady of Walsingham, pray for us, that our hearts may be truly open to Welcome and Receive every Guest as your Son, Our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.”


“Ausculta,” “Listen,” A Reflection on the Prologue of the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict

Ausculta,” – “Listen.”
A Reflection on the Prologue to the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict
Prepared for the Order of the Daughters of the King
of Trinity Episcopal Church
in Easton, Pennsylvania.
February 25, 2018

ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus,” “That in all things God may be glorified.

This is a reflection which I prepared for a meeting this afternoon of the Order of the Daughters of the King at Trinity Episcopal Church in Easton, Pennsylvania. “Ausculta”


 A sermon for the First Sunday in Lent
preached at
 Trinity Episcopal Church
in Easton, Pennsylvania
February 18, 2018

                                      “The Catechumenate not the Penitentiary.”

The First Letter to Peter makes a rather surprising statement about baptism: “And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you—not as a removal of dirt from the body, but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . ..” It raises the possibility of a “good conscience,” that is to say—the ability to make good, wise, holy and helpful decisions because of the power of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ as a daily reality in our lives.

One of the most interesting things about being part of a Liturgical Tradition is that one hears the same words again and again. And yet, when we reflect on this reality, I think that most of us will admit that we really do not hear them, in the same way, each time. As listeners, we are always in a different frame of mind. We are impacted by the things which surround us. And these influence what we hear. For instance, I am always astonished—and delighted—when I discover something new in an old passage which I have heard many times before. Although this is especially true of readings from Sacred Scripture, it is equally true for me in my reading from the Holy Rule of Saint Benedict, and in the passages which I hear from the Book of Common Prayer.

Just a few days ago, on Ash Wednesday, I heard once again that powerful invitation to a Holy Lent from the Book of Common Prayer. This year, though, I heard and then reflected on something quite different than I have in the past. May I ask for your indulgence for a moment as I remind you of the introductory passage from pages 264-265.

“Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith. I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.”

There are several important thoughts contained in this passage
-One prepares to celebrate the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ by a time of penance and fasting
-Lent was originally a season in which converts were prepared for Baptism
-Notorious sinners were restored to the Church through penance and forgiveness
-Christians must continually renew our repentance and faith

Here are suggested ways to observe a holy Lent
-read and meditate on God’s Holy Word
-receive the “mark of our mortal nature” (the final point
is my paraphrase).

This is a very rich offering—but quite an agenda. A part of me feels overwhelmed–and just a bit tired from even thinking about trying to do all this. The good news, though, is that this is not a time for a New Year’s resolution. I do not have to make an unreasonable—or even impossible—promise that my life will be completely changed by Easter. Even a few simple changes could yield a huge outcome: I could, of course, pick just one of these things, and, if I did, I think I would truly have a holy and productive Lent.

There is a more fundamental issue here. In our Christian tradition, we chose to combine two strands. We combined the practice of the Catechumenate (the time of preparing those who were to be Baptized and Confirmed for their reception into our community) with the Reconciliation of “Notorious Sinners.” These two strands have competing and conflicting theologies. I will even go so far as to suggest that they might even be—on some level—contradictory or incompatible.

As is often the case, though, when trying to hold conflicting perspectives in harmony, there is always a “winner” and a “loser.” And in this case, there is no doubt to me that the “Notorious Sinners” soundly defeated the “Catechumens.”

As an aside, this seems to be the very kind of thing that our friends at Forward Day by Day were thinking about when they created “Lenten Madness.” In a word, they invited us to completely re-think Lent—and in a fun, and thoughtful way. That is a very good thing!

The early church appears to have really been confused by the reality of fully initiated Christians appearing to commit serious sins. For them, the big three were “Murder,” “Adultery,” and “Apostasy.” The latter term, unheard these days, means to publicly deny one’s faith. Some Christians proposed a “one-strike” approach—do any of these things and you are out—no questions asked. Later, some loosened up a bit—more of a “three-strike,” approach. Even that, though, was accompanied by a very harsh penitential regime.

The “Notorious Sinner,”—frankly, I cringe whenever I hear that term! What makes any sinner more notorious than another? Only the ones who are caught? And what constitutes a “notorious sin anyway?” Why should your sin of choice be any worse than mine? And really, to paraphrase a famous contemporary thinker, “Who am I to judge?” This smacks of the kind of legalism and narrow-minded thinking which has been used to brutalize and demean people for millennia—in every faith tradition.

In the end, though, this is exactly the kind of thinking which came to dominate our approach to Lent. On one level, it had the advantage of being fair. We were all supposed to be treated as “notorious sinners.” On the other, Lent was a real downer. We were told very negative things about ourselves: “we are all fallen sinners, there is not much to be said about us which is good. We need penance, sacrifice, denial, mortification and suffering.” This is all primarily tied into the temptations of Christ in the desert—and into the Passion of Good Friday. There is almost no connection with the Resurrection!

When all is said and done, it produced a series of overly introspective and cranky Christians. It caused us to suffer for forty or more days—like someone serving a long prison sentence. We “did our time,” but all this suffering had limited impact on our spiritual lives. When Easter came we returned to the “status quo ante bellum,” or to “life as normal,” until entering the same tortured cycle the following Ash Wednesday.

What if we were to consider another paradigm? What if we were to focus on the “Catechumenate” rather than the “Penitentiary” as our primary model for Lent?

It is always helpful to have an outward and visible symbol for “sacramental moments.” What about a hug? When each person comes up for the administration of the symbol, the celebrant might say something like, “You are loved by God-Absolutely, Entirely and Unconditionally. Now extend that same love to every person you meet.”
What about giving each person a small bag of palm ashes—and ask them to mix them in soil with a fast-growing flower seed (is there a lovely plant which would grow and flower in 45 days)? The symbolism would be to invite us to consider that our mortality will give way to the “Resurrection of the body?” And then the flower could be gifted to someone—to brighten their life and to encourage them—a real sign of Easter!

It could also be a time to contemplate how we would act if we always felt loved, cared for and valued? We are! And yet, most times we have been made to feel like notorious sinners rather than someone who is loved and sealed as Christ’s own forever. Does that help us to make better decisions or to be holier people? I am sorry to say that I do not think so.

Lest I be accused of being naïve, I readily confess that I believe that evil exists. I believe that we often choose to do horrible things. And yet, under other circumstances, we might well choose to do good rather than evil. When we are wounded, broken and fragile, we are not always able to do the best that is in us. Throw in addiction, poverty, injustice, cruelty and systemic evil—and it truly is a miracle that any of us are still alive. And yes, throw in easy access to firearms and ammunition! I do not have to say anything more.

We need to give this a great deal more thought and prayer. I do know this, what we have been doing—rather routinely—does not seem to be transforming our world—or us. I can’t help but wonder if something more loving, encouraging, and empowering might produce a better outcome. When all is said and done, that is what Lent seems to be saying to me these days—” with the help of God’s love and grace—and with the support of others, things may yet be better.” That is truly good news!

Here are the photos which I took this morning in Easton.