Holiday Mass, Cartagena

People have strong feelings about forms of worship. When I first joined the Episcopal Church, the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was still new. It elicited both joy and complaint. We still accommodate different tastes with Rites I and II at different hours.

This is not the place to rehearse all that, but let me venture a remark about holiday services. Undoubtedly people here and elsewhere look forward to candle light Christmas Eve service, greens and candles lining the center aisle, our favorite carols, children lying in their parents’ arms. It is lovely to pour out freshly shriven into the dark night, all smiles.

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Richard Rorty is the author of contingency, irony and solidarity, a concerted philosophical challenge to faith. But on thoughtful consideration, it seems the best Rorty can do is show us where we would be had we not the faith. Thus he forces us to ask: Since we do have it, what is its true foundation? Read this way, he performs a very great service.

Rorty denies there is any permanent, pre-linguistic essence that defines human nature. Opposing his view, one might adduce the Augustinian gnawing in the bowels, the unrest which will not be quiet until we find rest in God. (Confessions 1:1)

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Uncommon Prayer

One of the greatest gifts of faith is undoubtedly the power of prayer, spanning the gulf between God and us. Perhaps the most elemental kind of prayer is simply waiting on God in silence; quiet the chattering monkey inside, and hope to hear. One’s daily work can be done prayerfully; repetitive work like sanding a board can be a mantra.

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Worship in Foreign Parts

My wife and I have been lucky enough to travel and worship in England and Italy. When I am in Italy I attend Mass and take Communion. I know the Church has rules against this, because I am not a Catholic. I know the arguments on both sides of the question, and I think they are all good. I take warrant from my late friend Ev Simson, who on a visit to Haiti asked the presiding clergy there whether he could take Communion. The priest asked, Did Jesus Christ bring you here? Ev answered, Yes. The priest said, There’s your answer.

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When we make our hospital visits, my wife I often hear people say they are not religious, but spiritual; they try to be good, help others, and make the world better. They don’t belong to church; they avoid doctrinaire teaching. There is no reason to doubt such people’s sincerity, but the sameness of these remarks gives us pause.

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