|The Acceptable Year of the Lord|
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
September is the beginning of the Church’s Year. This tradition we inherit from ancient Israel who set apart this time for both material and spiritual renewal. To this day, the descendants of the Chosen People gather for the Day of Atonement, a time of profoundest reflection and re-dedication.
It was at this time of the year that the Lord read in the synagogue this passage from Isaiah:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.
Afterward, He taught them and us that He is the Savior that brings about this renewal. “This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears.”
We hear all the time of “mission statements” that encapsulate a purpose. As a mission of the one and only Savior, our “mission statement” is to proclaim His Person. We believe that we are one with Him in His body, the Church. Thus, when He speaks, He speaks for us and through us. That is why we must be renewed, not only annually, but continually, not only apparently, but from the very ground of our being. If, as the Lord’s Body, we are to embody the vision and voice of His presence, then it only stands to reason that we must be renewed in our devotion and in holiness. As Saint Paul says:
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.
It is no mere accident or coincidence that the Lord has presented us at this new beginning with another opportunity, another “this day” for us in which we can make our sacrifice. I speak of course of that to which I alluded in last month’s bulletin: the beautiful and historic St. Joseph’s Chapel and its property two miles north of our present location. At this writing, the Lord is calling on us to be patient and wait upon His will and judgment. If it dawns that it is His will for us to take on this responsibility, then the subject of sacrifice, material sacrifice, will emerge for us very tangibly. It will be necessary for us to do all we can. We will need to make sacrifices.
In ancient Israel for both Tabernacle and Temple worship, a detailed schedule of such sacrifices was established. We can still read of this in complete detail in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers. It is recorded there that the sacrificial requirements were set up according to the gravity of the sacrificial need and economic station. The premier sacrifice was a male sheep, a ram, without blemish. In the context of an agricultural pastoral economy, this meant giving up a significant source of revenue, a real “money maker.” This was a sign that God came first, before economic gain. The lesson for us is that the Biblical notion of a “normal” sacrifice involves giving up something important, something that we notice.
In our time, being deceived by the spirit of the age, we have come to view our own material needs and wants as paramount, as one and the same, scarcely distinguishing between the two. As part of our renewal this year, and in the face of what God is presenting to us as a parish, we need to take a hard look at the difference between needs and wants. Once we discover that difference, we need to then, for the sake of the building up of the parish, be ready to set aside or defer that which we do not need, and be ready to devote that money instead to sacrificial giving.
Last month, I said that the tonsurings and ordination did not happen merely as a reward, but as preparation for the burdens of the journey ahead. If, as may happen, this wonderful property is donated to us, this donation will not be done so that we may sit back and take our ease. God will have shown us that He wants us to move forward and occupy the land. Because He will have given it to us, there will also be a burden from Him that will require sacrificial giving to support; but it will be more than bearable because there will also be the accompanying grace to bear it. Our experience and the experience of the Church from the beginning confirm the truth of this.
After spying out the Promised Land of Canaan, the Israelites at first refused to go in and possess it for fear of giants and walled cities, ignoring the grape clusters that it took two men to carry. Because of their hard and erring hearts, that first generation was not allowed to enter into the land of promise. (Numbers, chapters 13-14)
We must not be afraid to do what we need to do. We must not fear because doing what we need to do, sacrificial giving, is the means of healing, deliverance and renewed sight for us the givers as well as to those for whom we give. We have done all we can to make the place we are now in a vehicle for the Light of the world. There is every indication, so far, that He wants our lamp to burn even brighter.
“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”