I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (of worship). And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind…
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, “I’m not sure which Catholic Church you’re talking about Frieda.”
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 nights 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 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 herself to sleep. And as she prayed to our Savior she felt less and less sad and closer and closer to Jesus and 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, which was Jesus of course. 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 drawing closer to Jesus. (I think she’s exactly right!) Frieda would pray until she fell asleep. When the nuns could not find Frieda they learned pretty soon to go to the chapel and checked under the Altar. What better place to present your body a living sacrifice. Sometimes all we can do, all we really need to do, is to crawl under the Altar and pull the frontal shut and say our prayers.
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, no political leader, no prince, no party — God and only God the Blessed Trinity can really sooth our troubled hearts. Or sooth this troubled, stormy world. We all need a home. A place of rest. A shelter from the storm. And that place is Holy Mother Church.
We, as privileged members of the Body of Christ share and appropriate all we can of Jesus’ horizon, seeing the world the way Jesus sees the world, 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. Used to 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 and cuts us off from Heaven. 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. They may use our language, they may dress up as Christians, but they are wolves — you have to be careful of alliances you make with the world.
This present world order is a wilderness and we have seen the wilderness break out for years and years and then again this week on the Epiphany in Washington, DC. You will not find a permanent peace in this world and certainly not by imitating the world’s will to power. The needs of the world are greater than all the politics in the world. And no political leader will accomplish it even though they all will promise you anything. As the Psalmist cries out, “Put not your trust in Princes. Put not your trust in chariots.” God has given you that shelter from the storm in Holy Mother Church. That is our true home. There is our true citizenship. This is a revolution, yes — but it is a revolution made without human hands: The best thing you can do for yourself, for you family, for your community, for your Church, is to crawl under the Altar and pull the frontal shut and “present your bodies a living sacrifice acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service (of worship). And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind in Christ Jesus our Lord…”