The Bishop came to our parish last week as it was St. Paul’s twenty-fifth anniversary as a parish. He was there for the whole weekend: Vespers on Friday night; Liturgy for his name day on Saturday, followed by a grand potluck, with Fr. Alexander Atty, Dean of ST. Tikhon’s seminary, who presented a talk about what should be the future of our parish; and then Liturgy on Sunday followed by a dinner for the anniversary celebration (which I couldn’t attend, but am sure was grand, though have yet to see any pictures). To say the least, though only having just met him, I cannot help but admire and love my Bishop. Now, no one would mistake him for our Father in Christ, Archbishop St. John Chrysostom. He is short, unassuming, bald, and has a thick north Jersey accent. In fact when he preaches he sounds more like the head of the teamsters local addressing his union at the nearby beer hall. In one sense, I guess this just shows even more the power of our God to make people perfect in their “weakness.” For if he is not subtle, Bishop Thomas is most certainly effective.
The substance of his sermon was drawn from the day’s Gospel lesson on the resurrection of the son of the widow of Nain from St. Luke 7. His sermon was peppered with anecdotes, making it much easier for my foster-son Matt to follow (especially when he talked about “Fr. told us to drop dead!”). But the main point was that Christ brings a new reality, one that is awful and fearful. This reality calls on us to recognize that this new reality is one of life, for death cannot exist in his presence. And what is more, it is a life within his body, within the Church, for only within the Church can we find the new reality made manifest most fully, in the presence of all the saints, living and departed. For you see, it is the life in the Liturgy, the life in the parish, that is the real normal: what is outside, our jobs, our pastimes, our “earthly cares,” have been rendered meaningless with regard to how we have thought about them. This was the point of “Fr. told us to drop dead!” It seems that while still a parish priest the then Fr. Thomas wanted his parishioners to take a greater part in the life of the Church other than merely showing up every now an then to Liturgy. “But Oh Father, were too old to be involved.” Then he came to find out that all these people who were too old were working in their yards several hours a day, going to bingo and the Jai-Lai. He confronted them, telling them that if this was their response to the gift and presence of the kingdom, then they might as well be dead: i.e., they are already acting as if they are dead to God. This came after he asked the parish about why are we here (why are we at Church) and what is it we were hoping for? Do we intend to do more with our lives than the perfunctory “obligations” of attending? God expects much more.
I am happy to be part of St. Paul’s parish as it starts its next 25 years, and God willing and the life expectancy charts of my actuary don’t lie, I should be around for the 50th anniversary. Many years to the clergy and faithful of my parish. Now, back to Richard Hooker.