And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful.
The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat… Wilt thou then that we go and gather them up? But he said, Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them.
As most of you know I spent several years in a psychiatric hospital as their chaplain. (Wow! I’m still getting milage out of that!) I loved the work and coming to All Saints made me feel right at home. There was a nurse there that I’ll never forget. She was Irish and Roman Catholic. She was somewhere between my generation and my parents’. Frieda used to kid around with me, lecturing me all the time on the big mistake that England made by, in her words, leaving Holy Mother Church. By which she meant Rome. When she recited the Nicene Creed proclaiming her belief in “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church,” she meant Rome. I had fun with her as well. Every time she would refer to “the Catholic church,” I would add, “You mean the Roman Catholic church, right? Because I wouldn’t want you to think that the Roman Catholic Church was the only Catholic Church.”
Frieda grew up in Ireland. She was a middle child in a very large family. And a very poor family. Her mother and father could not keep the family together. Frieda was placed in an orphanage run by Roman Catholic nuns. Separated not only from her mother and father, but from her brothers and sisters as well, she learned to make a place in her young life for a profound grief that was pretty much there to stay. And yet Frieda was not a gloomy person. Of all the nurses Frieda was the one you would want to hang out with because she was fun and cheerful.
At the orphanage, she was fed and clothed and encouraged in her schoolwork. And she grew especially close to Jesus. But there were days she would awake with a deep longing for her family. She wanted to be close to them, but these sad feelings and thoughts made her long all the more and feel all the more distant from them.
Now this is where I learned something important for my life and the lives of my parishioners from Nurse Frieda. When her heart was breaking and she couldn’t take it anymore, she would sneak out of her room and steal away into the orphanage chapel. She would pull back the frontal and crawl under the Altar and pull the frontal closed. She felt safe there and she would pray. And as she prayed to our Savior she felt less and less sad and more and more close to her family. You know why? Her mom and dad were good Catholics and they loved Jesus too. And they always went to Mass and they always said their prayer like the village priest had taught the children to do. Little Frieda thought prayer was like a rope, a connection, tied to a life preserver. Its like Jesus is holding all these ropes that other people are holding onto and prayer was like using that rope to pull in closer and closer to Jesus. Therefore this little girl reasoned, by drawing closer to Jesus she was also drawing closer to the people she loved who were doing the same thing. (I think she’s exactly right!) Frieda would pray until she fell asleep. When the nuns could not find Frieda they learned to pretty soon to go to the chapel and checked under the Altar.
My good friend learned at a tender age that our highest love and our highest loyalty belongs to Jesus and no one else. No one, but God, could really sooth our troubled hearts. We all need a home. A place of rest. A shelter from the storm.
Remember the question I have raised in the past and continue to raise: “How should the Church and her children behave in the world that not only does not share our horizon, but is frequently alien and hostile to our horizon?” And remember what a horizon is: a literal horizon is the limit of my vision from a specific point of reference. Looking out from the great window behind the Altar I can see just so far and the end of my vision is the end of my horizon. But if I climb to the top of the Bell Tower, my horizon will enlarge as I go up higher. The higher you ascend, the wider and deeper your horizon. That is our metaphor for your personal, existential horizon. Your personal horizon is not only the limit of your vision, but it is the limit of your knowledge, your loving, your caring and your valuing from a specific point of reference — that point of reference being you. It is your horizon. What I know, how I know, what I value, what I really care about, all my potentialities and possibilities are integrated into my personal horizon.
We, as privileged members of the Body of Christ share and appropriate all we can, Jesus’ horizon, which is Holy Mother Church’s horizon, and as we grow into Christian maturity our horizons expand to include more and more of Jesus’ horizon. Christians cannot circumscribe, draw a circle, around Jesus’ horizon, the Church’s horizon, and then draw a different circle around our everyday life and treat them separately, as though one has nothing to do with the other. Remember that the so-called sacred/secular split in reality is a Protestant/Enlightenment myth. There used to be no secular in the world. All of life was full of heaven and earth in a harmony of beauty. But the Protestant/Englihtenment myth has rendered a one-story universe that is cold and lonely. It is a lie. As Members of Christ and as therefore as Members One of Another, we make Jesus’ horizon more and more our personal horizon and that very movement fosters our growth corporately and individually. The world knows nothing of the authentic Christian horizon, that Freda, as a little child back in Ireland grasped with heart and mind. Now, the world may like Freda’s heart-warming story because it makes one feel good, but the world does not believe that little Freda really and truly grew closer to her loved ones by growing closer to Jesus. As Christians in this world we must be attentive to that fact.
This present world order is a wilderness. A turbulent ocean. You will not find a permanent peace in this world. But God has given you that shelter from the storm in Holy Mother Church. That is our true home. This is the revolution made without human hands: Holy Mother Church and her prayers.
For years now I pointed out that the word “Church” only means one thing in Bible. The Church is the visible Body of Christ invested with privileges of invisible grace. There are not two Churches, one visible Church made up of wheat and tares and one invisible, the pure Church made up only of wheat. No such Church appears in the New Testament. Paul writes no letter to the invisible, Church of the Pluperfect. He does address the elect in his epistles, but for St. Paul and the rest of the Apostles baptism and election are the very same thing. There are not two bodies of the Church. One pure Church of the elect and one all mixed up like that wheat field in the Gospel today. And that is Jesus’ very point: the only Church we have is all mixed up –- wheat and tares. Now that does mean this mix is unimportant. But it does mean go easy, be careful, it isn’t easy to distinguish wheat from tares.
Think of it this way. I’m going to switch the metaphor on you. We are all born as branches on the same Vine. Call that Vine, Adam. When he disobeyed God he died spiritually. Adam and Eve were not created to die. They were created to love God and enjoy Him. But they disobeyed God and they died spiritually. We inherited that spiritual death. We cannot love God nor can we love anything rightly. We are born as branches upon this dead Vine called Adam.
Now there is another Vine. The Vine of the Church, which is the Body of Christ. Through Christ, the last Adam, this Vine is alive in God himself. So how do we get ourselves attached to this new Vine? We have to be graphed in.We have to be broken off the old Vine of Adam and graphed into the New Vine of Christ, which is his living Body the Church.
Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?
Baptism is a sacrament of the Church; one of the Visible Church’s privileges of invisible grace. There is an outward visible sign: water and the Words of Christ. There is the interior, invisible really real grace: regeneration and grafting into Christ and grafting into Holy Mother Church as one of her children. This process of breaking a branch off the Old Vine and engrafting it into the New Vine of Christ is what happens in Holy Baptism.
But listen. A vine has many branches. There may be dead branches or what appear to be dead branches still clinging. They show no evidence of life. But they are still attached to the vine. Living branches and dead branches on the same vine. I’m not suggesting that we embrace antinomianism. This is the scriptural account of the Church for the time being. But it will not stay that way. In the end the wheat and tares will be separated. Dead branches will be taken away.
So here’s my last point: the same Church that was so full of the grace of Christ in Frieda’s life is the very Field in today’s Gospel. The same Church that is full of grace is also like the Vine of Christ full of life-giving sap, with both living branches and apparently dead branches. I have seen what I thought were dead branches come to life and bloom.
But listen to me. Yes, Baptism is our entrance into God’s family and God’s home. It is no mere empty form. Jesus did not institute empty forms. Baptism is the real means and instrument of God’s true blessing. And that being the case, be attentive, intelligent, reasonable and responsible with regard to the gift that has been committed to you. Do not trifle with God’s grace. To practice sin after receiving God’s grace is not only absurd, it is to endanger our souls.
Remember, that like little Ezra only a few weeks ago, each of us have had the Sign of the Cross set upon our heads. Water poured on us in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Remember with what love and strength Holy Mother Church has taken you up into her arms. She is our shelter from the storm. She is the revolution made without human hands. Our true home. The Altar that hides covers us all.