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On Sunday, May 24, the Telegraph posted an article that brightened my day: ‘Churches must be allowed to reopen, MPs demand in letter to PM’.

We haven’t been able to attend church since the middle of March, which is also true for other houses of worship.

I am mystified as to why the House of Commons is able to social distance adequately, with alternate benches closed and designated seating, but religious leaders cannot be trusted to do the same in their places of worship.

Fortunately, 20 Conservative MPs wrote to Prime Minister Boris Johnson, expressing their incredulity that we can go to a supermarket but not to church (emphases mine):

Boris Johnson has been urged by a group of Conservative MPs to allow churches to open for prayer, weddings and funerals as soon as next month.

The 20 MPs, including former ministers and senior backbenchers, questioned why shoppers can go to a “busy supermarket” to buy food and drinks but worshippers in need of spiritual sustenance cannot currently pray in a largely empty church.

“Weddings (whether in the church porch or inside), christenings and other services are wanted; safely and soon”, the MPs said. “Ten can gather in a crematorium yet one cannot be in a church.”

The Government’s Covid-19 recovery strategy published earlier this month put churches and other public places of worship in the same bracket as pubs and cinemas, and said that could not reopen until July 4 at the earliest.

It added that some of these venues may not be able to open even then because “it may prove difficult to enact distancing”.

However, in a letter to the Prime Minister, a copy of which has been seen by The Telegraph, the MPs make clear that “many [of us] want further faster opening of churches and places of worship”.

They said: “We ask for clear guidance, rules removed and discretion allowed as local faith leaders stay alert and make churches, chapels and places of prayer and worship available to the faithful. Everyone understands the value of appropriate social distancing and the obligation to avoid contamination”

The letter was sent to Mr Johnson and his Parliamentary Private Secretary Andrew Bowie this weekend. It has been organised by Tory MP Sir Peter Bottomley. Other signatories include Tim Loughton and Sir Bob Neill as well as senior members of the influential backbench 1922 committee of Tory MPs such as the chairman Sir Graham Brady and executive officer Bob Blackman.

The group warned Mr Johnson that “the Cabinet and you know the strength of backbench feeling”, and expressed concern that some places of worship might not even be able to open in July.

They said: “Even that may be extended by delay in publishing regulations, decisions by diocesan bishops and local circumstances.

Quoting a representative Catholic pastor, they tell Mr Johnson: “I ask you to put pressure on the Government for private prayer as soon as possible. Two-metre social distancing is easy (easier than in a supermarket) and sensible hygiene precautions can quickly be put in place.

“It seems odd that you can go for a walk, enter a busy supermarket, get on a bus, but cannot go to a large virtually-empty-for-much-of-the-time building.”

They add: “We ask that our leaders, Government and church, especially the Church of England, together find reasonably safe ways to reopen our churches for prayer, for funerals even with limited congregations and for worship sooner than July.”

That day, I heard an interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury on BBC News. He said he was more concerned about Mental Health Week at that time than reopening churches. It seemed an odd remark. Surely, church can help assuage mental health symptoms as those so afflicted can focus on faith, salvation and fellowship — especially during the coronavirus crisis:

At present, the Church of England has instructed clergy that they may go in to church to clean it — but not to pray! Daft.

The Archbishop of Canterbury films services in his kitchen:

However, the Bishop of London, the Right Revd Dame Sarah Mullally, a former nursing chief, disagrees …

… although she films sermons from her home:

Her flexible instruction, it seems, was a wise one, as some clergy were unhappy with Welby’s wholesale closure:

Bishop Mullally, who was UK’s chief nursing officer from 1999-2004, said priests could livestream services from within a church building if they could access it via an internal door from their home, or without leaving the curtilage of the church.

The Archbishop’s wholesale ban upset priests who felt he does not have the right to order clergy who are answerable to their own bishops.

One said: “He’s panicked and shut everything down,” while another vicar who used Zoom to conduct a Palm Sunday for a 90-strong congregation and will do so again on Easter Sunday, said: “The whole situation is ridiculous”.

That said, this Good Friday tweet appears to contradict that flexibility:

On Good Friday, London’s St Bartholomew the Great filmed a service with priest and choir:

Hospital chapels are another area of contention, as this letter to the Times, from St Bartholomew’s rector (shown in the above video), reveals. Click on the image to read the letter in full:

I like this priest. He’s eager — and rightly so — to have his congregation return:

This is amazing (as in awful):

That brought another set of replies from a curate and a gentleman in Montreal:

I fully agree with the ‘social service agency’ sentiment.

The discussion returned to Mr Walker and a random Twitter user. This is great. I’m so glad the priest took this man on:

Excellent reply.

Whenever church opens, I hope there will be a new market for those who have begun praying at home — and perhaps watching online services — during the past several weeks:

Plans are already underway to work out methods for reopening London’s Anglican churches whilst maintaining social distancing.

On the back of exploring what’s on Episcopal priests‘ minds, I am crossing the Atlantic, returning to the UK, to explore what Anglican priests are thinking about.

I will continue both series.

The Revd Marcus Walker, serving in the Diocese of London, deplores the bewilderment and criticism surrounding the recent group photograph of Mike Pence and his coronavirus team in prayer.

Note that they are not praying in public, as detractors have said. Press photographers happened to be present for the meeting.

The 1662 Book of Common Prayer has such a prayer, which can be said during the Litany. Highly useful during the coronavirus scare:

In the time of any common plague or sicknes.

O Almighty God, who in thy wrath didst send a plague upon thine own people in the wildernes for their obstinate rebellion against Moses and Aaron, and also in the time of King David, didst slay with the plague of pestilence threescore and ten thousand, and yet remembring thy mercy didst save the rest: have pitie upon us miserable sinners, who now are visited with great sicknes and mortality, that like as thou didst then accept of an atonement, and didst command the destroying Angell to cease from punishing: so it may now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sicknes, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Marcus Walker later located his ‘jumbo book of State Prayers’ and noted the following shift in emphasis in them from the 18th to the 19th centuries:

Turning to the opprobrium heaped upon the American vice president and his team, this is what Mr Walker and his readers tweeted:

Nor do I.

The Revd Giles Fraser, formerly a Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and current Rector at the south London church of St Mary’s, Newington, told the readers of his online magazine Unherd how he has changed the Communion service during the coronavirus outbreak (emphases mine):

I have a cough. I have had it for weeks. A deep hacking affair that brings up nasty thick greenish goo. It’s not the virus — I haven’t got a high temperature or any other symptoms. But it is dramatic enough to clear the seats next to me on the tube.

In church on Sunday, too, I could feel the anxiety radiate out from my coughing away behind the altar into a twitchy congregation. We have suspended sharing the peace for the time being. Instead of shaking hands or kissing, we wave at each other. So, too, we have decided to take communion in one kind only — that is, we share the bread but not the common cup of wine. And in this context, the symbolic handwashing the priest performs before the Eucharist is no longer simply a ritual act. It feels like a necessity. Cleanliness is next to godliness.

As one of my posts explained last week, the Cup can be suspended during health emergencies under a) the Doctrine of Concomitance and b) the 1547 Sacrament Act.

The Doctrine of Concomitance says that Christ’s substance in the Eucharist cannot be divided. The bread and the wine are both the entire real presence of Christ.

Giles Fraser and one of his readers helpfully tweeted about both:

Someone responded — possibly an agnostic — taking to task Christians who are panicking over the coronavirus. He has a point:

It amazes me how those who pontificate so much about life thereafter being so wonderful succumb to panic at the thought of death. Just a pause for thought. The Lord’s supposed to be our protector but only if it means it protects us from death. Come on religious people! Get a grip.

I don’t understand it, either.

On that note, and from a Catholic perspective, Dr CC Pecknold, a professor who also writes for First Things, tweeted about the plague in Venice between 1630 and 1631:

Exactly. However, that is what stubborn secularists, such as those criticising Mike Pence and his coronavirus team, refuse to understand. Christians pray for guidance and relief during troubled times.

There was more to the conversation. Someone was disappointed that the Peace had been suspended in his diocese:

How true.

In closing, after the plague had left Venice, the citizens of that city built a magnificent church in thanksgiving:

Would this happen now were, heaven forfend, the coronavirus to become an epidemic? No. Not at all.

More’s the pity.

In Italy, churches are closing their doors for the next few weeks:

This church in Rome is open but has taken additional precautions:

Meanwhile, let’s continue to pray that we may be guided in the correct practical direction during this pandemic and ask the Lord for it to harm as few people as possible.

I do think these health disasters are ‘come to Jesus moments’. Is anyone out there listening, including some notional Christians? Or are we all going to panic?

Ash Wednesday is February 26, 2020.

These are the readings for the first day in Lent:

Readings for Ash Wednesday

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us how to practice piety and self denial through fasting: keep it quiet and never boast about it. Verses 19 through 21 will also be familiar to many.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6:1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

6:2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our Lord addressed these verses to the scribes and the Pharisees, who made much public display of their notional devotion to God.

Yet, they were so hard-hearted that they rejected Jesus to the end, with all their hearts and all their minds.

Of these verses, Matthew Henry’s commentary counsels (emphases mine):

As we must do better than the scribes and Pharisees in avoiding heart-sins, heart-adultery, and heart-murder, so likewise in maintaining and keeping up heart-religion, doing what we do from an inward, vital principle, that we may be approved of God, not that we may be applauded of men; that is, we must watch against hypocrisy, which was the leaven of the Pharisees, as well as against their doctrine, Luke 12:1. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, are three great Christian duties–the three foundations of the law, say the Arabians: by them we do homage and service to God with our three principal interests; by prayer with our souls, by fasting with our bodies, by alms-giving with our estates. Thus we must not only depart from evil, but do good, and do it well, and so dwell for evermore …

Take heed of hypocrisy, for if it reign in you, it will ruin you. It is the dead fly that spoils the whole box of precious ointment.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving done openly, with ostentation and/or public announcement, has its own reward on Earth, in front of other sinful people. Those who do such things are not pleasing God. God will not honour such actions.

Henry explains, referring to the Greek in the original text:

they have their reward here, and have none to hope for hereafter. Apechousi ton misthon. It signifies a receipt in full. What rewards the godly have in this life are but in part of payment; there is more behind, much more; but hypocrites have their all in this world, so shall their doom be; themselves have decided it. The world is but for provision to the saints, it is their spending-money; but it is pay to hypocrites, it is their portion.

The reason for doing these things in very public places is to impress others. God, on the other hand, remains distinctly unimpressed with such open expressions. Henry gives us the reasons for the Jewish hierarchy’s seeking out the most public places for their most ostentatious prayer displays and why God disapproves. It is not entirely wrong to do these things in the open, but when we become prideful and seek out more of the same, it becomes sinful:

Their pride in choosing these public places, which is expressed in two things: [1.] They love to pray there. They did not love prayer for its own sake, but they loved it when it gave them an opportunity of making themselves noticed. Circumstances may be such, that our good deeds must needs be done openly, so as to fall under the observation of others, and be commended by them; but the sin and danger is when we love it, and are pleased with it, because it feeds the proud humour.

With regard to the scribes and Pharisees:

[2.] It is that they may be seen of men; not that God might accept them, but that men might admire and applaud them; and that they might easily get the estates of widows and orphans into their hands (who would not trust such devout, praying men?) and that, when they had them, they might devour them without being suspected (Matthew 23:14); and effectually carry on their public designs to enslave the people.

Henry says that the public forum is not the place for ostentatious devotion. Therefore, in church, we must be circumspect and not stand out. Furthermore, we make a mistake if the only time we pray is in church:

we must avoid every thing that tends to make our personal devotion remarkable, as they that caused their voice to be heard on high, Isaiah 58:4. Public places are not proper for private solemn prayer.

Furthermore:

Personal prayer is here supposed to be the duty and practice of all Christ’s disciples.

Henry has more on personal prayer:

Note, Secret prayer is to be performed in retirement, that we may be unobserved, and so may avoid ostentation; undisturbed, and so may avoid distraction; unheard, and so may use greater freedom; yet if the circumstances be such that we cannot possibly avoid being taken notice of, we must not therefore neglect the duty, lest the omission be a greater scandal than the observation of it …

Note, In secret prayer we must have an eye to God, as present in all places; he is there in thy closet when no one else is there; there especially nigh to thee in what thou callest upon him for. By secret prayer we give God the glory of his universal presence (Acts 17:24), and may take to ourselves the comfort of it.

Scripture cautions against repetition in prayer, yet, Henry explains that this is only when our minds wander as we repeat the same words over and over. Repetition, when done with reverence and thought, is acceptable:

It is not all repetition in prayer that is here condemned, but vain repetitions. Christ himself prayed, saying the same words (Matthew 26:44), out of more than ordinary fervour and zeal, Luke 22:44. So Daniel, Daniel 9:18,19. And there is a very elegant repetition of the same words, Psalms 136:1-26. It may be of use both to express our own affections, and to excite the affections of othersthe barren and dry going over of the same things again and again, merely to drill out the prayer to such a length, and to make a show of affection when really there is none; these are the vain repetitions here condemned. When we would fain say much, but cannot say much to the purpose; this is displeasing to God and all wise men.

As for fasting, it should be accompanied by prayer. Otherwise, it has no spiritual value. It’s just a diet.

Fasting does not mean gorging at night, either.

Henry, very much an Anglican clergyman whose theology aligned with Calvinism, lamented the loss of the centuries-old godly practice of fasting. This would have been in the late 17th and early 18th century. Fasting, accompanied by prayer, curbs the urges of the flesh for more food and focusses our minds on higher things:

We are here cautioned against hypocrisy in fasting, as before in almsgiving, and in prayer.

I. It is here supposed that religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, when God, in his providence, calls to it, and when the case of their own souls upon any account requires it; when the bridegroom is taken away, then shall they fast, Matthew 9:15. Fasting is here put last, because it is not so much a duty for its own sake, as a means to dispose us for other duties. Prayer comes in between almsgiving and fasting, as being the life and soul of both. Christ here speaks especially of private fasts, such as particular persons prescribe to themselves, as free-will offerings, commonly used among the pious Jews; some fasted one day, some two, every week; others seldomer, as they saw cause. On those days they did not eat till sun-set, and then very sparingly. It was not the Pharisee’s fasting twice in the week, but his boasting of it, that Christ condemned, Luke 18:12. It is a laudable practice, and we have reason to lament it, that is so generally neglected among Christians. Anna was much in fasting, Luke 2:37. Cornelius fasted and prayed, Acts 10:30. The primitive Christians were much in it, see Acts 13:3,14:23. Private fasting is supposed, 1 Corinthians 7:5. It is an act of self-denial, and mortification of the flesh, a holy revenge upon ourselves, and humiliation under the hand of God. The most grown Christians must hereby own, they are so far from having any thing to be proud of, that they are unworthy of their daily bread. It is a means to curb the flesh and the desires of it, and to make us more lively in religious exercises, as fulness of bread is apt to make us drowsy. Paul was in fastings often, and so he kept under this body, and brought it into subjection.

Henry summarises the biblical way to fast:

We are directed how to manage a private fast; we must keep it in private, Matthew 6:17,18. He does not tell us how often we must fast; circumstances vary, and wisdom is profitable therein to direct; the Spirit in the word has left that to the Spirit in the heart; but take this for a rule, whenever you undertake this duty, study therein to approve yourselves to God, and not to recommend yourselves to the good opinion of men; humility must evermore attend upon our humiliation. Christ does not direct to abate any thing of the reality of the fast; he does not say,”take a little meat, or a little drink, or a little cordial;” no, “let the body suffer, but lay aside the show and appearance of it; appear with thy ordinary countenance, guise, and dress; and while thou deniest thyself thy bodily refreshments, do it so as that it may not be taken notice of, no, not by those that are nearest to thee; look pleasant, anoint thine head and wash thy face, as thou dost on ordinary days, on purpose to conceal thy devotion; and thou shalt be no loser in the praise of it at last; for though it be not of men, it shall be of God. Fasting is the humbling of the soul (Psalms 35:13), that is the inside of the duty; let that therefore be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. If we be sincere in our solemn fasts, and humble, and trust God’s omniscience for our witness, and his goodness for our reward, we shall find, both that he did see in secret, and will reward openly. Religious fasts, if rightly kept, will shortly be recompensed with an everlasting feast. Our acceptance with God in our private fasts should make us dead, both to the applause of men (we must not do the duty in hopes of this), and to the censures of men too (we must not decline the duty for fear of them). David’s fasting was turned to his reproach, Psalms 69:10; and yet, Matthew 6:13, As for me, let them say what they will of me, my prayer is unto thee in an acceptable time.

Certainly, some people have problems gaining weight. Therefore, fasting would not be recommended for them.

However, for the rest of us, some physical self-denial, accompanied by prayer, would not go amiss.

It is hard to think of a better Gospel to lead us into Lent. For anyone observing this season, I pray that you be abundantly blessed in all your undertakings, especially those further enabling the Christian journey.

President Trump had a busy schedule at the end of May 2019, which included a return trip to Japan.

This time it was a State Visit.

As he and First Lady Melania would be out of the country on Memorial Day weekend, they visited Arlington Cemetery before their departure:

On May 25, the first day of the State Visit to Japan, Trump met with that nation’s business leaders, too many to list here:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie hosted the Trumps for dinner that night. Abe had not forgotten his guest’s favourite dessert:

Abe was delighted to welcome back his friend:

The next day, the two world leaders played golf:

Their wives toured the Mori Building Digital Art Museum:

The QTree explained the significance of the following day’s welcome by the new Emperor and Empress of Japan — a first for both couples:

… our President and FLOTUS become the first guests of Japanese Emperor Naruhito and Empress Masako at the Imperial Palace.

There are three components to the state visit: (1) The guest arrival and formal greeting by the Emperor and Empress. (2) The ceremonial anthems of both nations and the presentation of the imperial guard.  (3) A “state call” or discussion of diplomatic matters between the Emperor, Empress and their honored guests.

During the official state call component there is an exchange of gifts.

1) Formal greeting by the Emperor and Empress …

2) The ceremonial anthems of both nations and the presentation of the imperial guard.

The ‘inside palace’ greeting and introduction was not covered by international media. However, due to the significance of the visit (first of imperial era of Reiwa) it was broadcast on local Japanese media (below).

Body language and facial expressions can’t be faked. They are all VERY PLEASED AND HONORED to meet one another. Such a proud moment for both nations.

(3) A “state call” or discussion of diplomatic matters between the Emperor, Empress and their honored guests in video below.

Then, there was the customary exchange of gifts. The Japanese emperor is an accomplished violin and viola player, as evidenced below in this video from 2007:

The accompanying press pool report states (emphases mine):

The President presented the Emperor an American-made viola in a custom case and a signed photo of American composer Aaron Copland. This vintage 1938 viola was handmade in Charleston, West Virginia. The President also presented the Emperor with a signed and framed photo of the President.

The First Lady presented the Empress with a custom White House desk set featuring a pen made of Harvard tree wood. The Empress herself studied Economics at Harvard. This fountain pen was handcrafted from a red oak tree that still stands in Old Harvard Yard. The First Lady also presented the Empress with a signed and framed photo of the First Lady.

The Emperor presented the President with a traditional Japanese pottery and porcelain bowl as well as a signed and framed photo of His Majesty the Emperor.

The Empress presented the First Lady with an ornamental Japanese lacquer box with traditional design as well as a framed and signed photo of Her Majesty the Empress.

Note: It is long-standing custom of the Imperial Palace that their Majesties the Emperor and Empress exchange signed, framed photographs with their guests on the occasion of a State Visit.

Afterwards, Trump and Abe held discussions on trade and security:

Their wives attended a cultural presentation:

Upon his return, Trump tweeted:

While the Trumps were in Japan, on May 25, actor Jon Voight tweeted:

The president faces the same threats as Lincoln did. He is in danger every day from people who desperately want to remove him from office, either by death or by impeachment. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi says Trump belongs in prison.

The Mueller Report left the door open to more scheming by Democrats.

The coup is not yet over.

Therefore, on May 30, the Revd Franklin Graham issued a national appeal for prayer for the president on Sunday, June 2:

That day, another friend of the president’s explained to Fox News that this appeal had nothing to do with politics but the real fight of good versus evil:

Other pastors on social media had to remind their detractors that they had prayed for past presidents, too:

On Friday, May 31, a mass shooting took place in Virginia Beach. After golfing on Sunday, June 2, the president visited the Revd David Platt’s McLean Bible Church in Virginia, where he joined congregants in praying silently for the victims of the shooting.

The New York Post reported:

While he did not talk during the service, Trump stood behind pastor David Platt as he offered a prayer for the 12 killed in Friday’s mass shooting.

The president was there to “visit with the Pastor and pray for the victims and community of Virginia Beach,” said Judd Deere, the White House’s deputy press secretary.

Trump arrived at about 2:20 p.m. and his motorcade left a little over 15 minutes later.

DeWayne Craddock, 40, slaughtered 12 at Virginia Beach’s municipal building Friday — just hours after quitting his job as a civil engineer.

In turn, Platt prayed for the president:

I do not know where Platt stands on his stance of private redistribution of wealth he was promoting back in 2012, but I am grateful that he prayed for President Trump.

Considering the prayers, the threats that the president endures daily and Jon Voight’s comparison of him with Lincoln, it was amazing that he and the first lady went to Ford’s Theatre that night for an awards presentation. Ford’s Theatre was the site of Lincoln’s assassination:

I am very glad I was out of the country at the time. Otherwise I would have been worried about his safety.

Yet, thankfully, God continues to watch over President Trump, who flew to London that night with the first lady and his family (apart from Barron).

More on that trip tomorrow.

How many people know about the Battle of Lepanto?

In the 1970s, when Western education was still decent, I took a year of World History in high school. If we covered it, it must have been a footnote.

I read about it in depth only six years ago, when someone from the West Indies had a WordPress blog, since deleted. The writer was Catholic and explained the religious, historical and cultural significance of October 7, 1571, the date of the victory over the Ottoman Empire.

The victory was important to Mediterranean Europe. Inland, the Battle of Vienna took place just over a century later, on September 12, 1683, led by the indomitable King Jan (John) III Sobieski of Poland. Lepanto was to the Mediterranean what Vienna was to the rest of Europe.

On to the Battle of Lepanto and October 7, which Catholics venerate as the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. In 2017, Polish Catholics assembled nationwide to pray the Rosary on that day. The Daily Mail has more (emphases mine):

Hundreds of thousands of Polish Catholics are expected to descend Saturday on the country’s borders to recite the rosary “to save Poland and the world” from the dangers facing them, organisers say, but others claim the event is aimed at protecting Europe from what they term a Muslim onslaught.

The episcopate insists that the “Rosary to the Borders” is a purely religious initiative, but some Catholics view it as a weapon against “Islamisation.”

The date was not chosen at random. October 7 is when Catholics celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, marking the 1571 victory of Christianity over the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Lepanto.

A victory attributed to the recital of the rosary “that saved Europe from Islamisation”, the Solo Dios Basta foundation said on the website of the event it is organising.

Many Poles see Islam as a threat. The conservative government, which enjoys the backing of a sizeable portion of the population, refuses to welcome migrants to Poland, which has very few Muslims of its own.

Twenty-two border dioceses will take part in the event, whose faithful will congregate in some 200 churches for a lecture and mass before travelling to the border to say the rosary.

The goal is to have as many prayer points as possible along the 3,511 kilometres (about 2,200 miles) that make up Poland’s borders with Belarus, the Czech Republic, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, Slovakia, Ukraine and the Baltic Sea.

Fishing boats will join in at sea, while kayaks and sailboats will form a chain along rivers and lakes. Prayers will also be said at the chapels of a few international airports …

The goal is to pray for world peace, according to Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, spokesman for the Polish Bishops’ Conference.

“The initiative obviously received the approval of Poland’s bishops,” he told AFP, emphasising that it would be wrong to view the event as a prayer against the arrival of Muslim refugees.

“It is not a matter of closing ourselves off to others. On the contrary, the point of bringing the rosary to the borders is to break down walls and open ourselves up to Russians, Belarussians, Slovaks, Ukrainians and Germans,” he said

In 2018, on October 7, Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, appeared on a talk show saying that the influx of immigrants arriving by boat are not true refugees. He estimates that only 10 per cent are. He recommends taking in only women and young children. He objects to turning Italy’s public housing over to immigrants arriving by boat and says that local and regional governments should continue to reserve these flats and houses for Italians. Currently, Angela Merkel is trying to transfer immigrants who had arrived in Germany via Italy back to Italy:

RMC (French talk radio) had a lengthy segment on immigration from Africa on the morning of Monday, October 8. Opinion was strongly divided as to whether and how many more immigrants France — especially Paris — should accommodate. It was a lively discussion with no conclusion. One point that did stand out was that French people were being pushed down the queue for social housing for recently-arrived immigrants. So, the French housing situation is like Italy’s, which is like Germany’s and Sweden’s.

Besides the religious and 21st century significance of the Battle of Lepanto, there is a historic one. It took place at a time when the invasion of hordes of groups of people — not just those from the Ottoman Empire — were invading not only Europe but also Asia.

I had always wondered how these groups had been stopped. A considered essay, ‘The Significance of Lepanto’, explains what happened from that point through to the 18th century.

First, we need to consider the main group of players in Europe’s Holy League. These nation-states also controlled various parts of the Mediterranean, including islands such as Corsica, Cyprus and Crete. Trade and strategic ports were important to the Spanish, the Venetians and to the Vatican, which also controlled territory in this part of the world:

The Battle of Lepanto has a major place in the symbolism of the Western-Islamic relationship, and Niccolò Capponi’s recently published Victory of the West: The Story of the Battle of Lepanto treats the battle as a major encounter between the Islamic Ottoman empire and the forces of Western Christendom.

Lepanto was the last great battle that could be described as a simple clash between Christendom and Islam. Fought on October 7, 1571, it saw the fleet of the Ottoman empire pitted against an alliance of Spain, Venice and various other minor players to form a Holy League under the leadership of Don Juan of Austria, the illegitimate half-brother of Philip II of Spain.

The battle was the response of the Christian powers to the invasion of the Venetian possession of Cyprus. At stake was control of the Mediterranean. If the Ottomans had won then there was a real possibility that an invasion of Italy could have followed so that the Ottoman sultan, already claiming to be emperor of the Romans, would have been in possession of both New and Old Rome. The Pope could have become as much a tool of the Ottoman sultan as his Orthodox counterpart the Patriarch of Constantinople already was.

Yet, as Capponi points out, the Holy League was hardly a model of Christian solidarity. The Spanish and the Venetians had different strategic objectives—the Spanish were concerned primarily with Italy, North Africa and the Western Mediterranean, while Venice was anxious to recover Cyprus and protect its interests in the eastern Mediterranean. The Spanish were not keen for a battle that might lose them precious resources, particularly as Philip II, with interests as well in northern Europe, was usually on the verge of bankruptcy. The Spanish were also concerned that the Venetians were in the process of cutting a deal with the Ottomans. Just a few days before the battle there was a conflict between the Spanish and Venetians that almost tore the fleet apart. Nevertheless the alliance held and the League fleet scored a stunning success.

Lepanto reshaped the religious bent of the Mediterranean:

The cultural shape of the lands around the Mediterranean was confirmed with a largely Islamic East and South staring across the waters at a Christian North and West.

The Ottoman Empire gradually lost territory and influence from that point until it collapsed with the Great War (1914-1918). That said, we are still dealing with the aftermath a century later:

The Ottoman empire, like the ancient Roman empire and the Byzantine empire before it, was left with the task of defending its ever diminishing borders over the next three centuries. When it did finally “fall” after the First World War the ramifications were enormous, and we are still attempting to cope with them from Bosnia to Iraq.

The Europeans defeated the Ottomans because of advanced naval battle tactics and weaponry. They also had more advanced trade and inventions, such as the printing press, which the Ottomans were slow to adopt:

The League won because it used innovative tactics. The usual form that galley warfare took was to ram the enemy ships and then take them by storm. The Venetian ships attempted a new and different tactic. Using a larger and modified form of galley known as galleasses, they filled these ships with cannons and attempted to blow as many of the Ottoman galleys as possible out of the water. League ships carried many more cannon and its troops made much greater use of firearms. Many of the Ottoman troops preferred to use bows, although these were not necessarily inferior to the clumsy arquebus of that time …

In the longer term, however, the future belonged to the new commercial instruments of the West rather than to the bureaucratic machinery of the Ottomans. In her study of seventeenth-century Crete, A Shared World, Molly Green demonstrates that the commercial techniques and practices used by the Venetians were much more sophisticated and developed than those of the Ottoman regime that replaced them in mid-century. It was also the case that the Ottomans were slow to take to make use of printing, with the “printing revolution” that swept the West in the sixteenth century not really taking off in the Islamic world until the nineteenth century.

Europe and Asia had been beset by invaders for centuries, especially during the perilous Dark Ages.

In Europe, during the latter days of the Roman Empire:

Rome, and the Roman empire, had to face an almost continuous set of threats, beginning with the Celts, then moving through to the Germans, Huns, Avars, Arabs and Turks. The Ottoman Turks simply delivered the coup de grâce to what had become little more than a living corpse.

In Asia:

China built its “great wall” to protect itself from nomadic predators, while the damage inflicted by the Mongols on the settled Islamic world, including the sack of Baghdad, was staggering.

These invasions happened because invading tribes of people envied the civilisation of settled societies:

A settled civilisation, by creating a measure of comfort and a settled way of life, makes itself a target for those living outside their boundaries who are drawn by what it has to offer.

Large-scale invasions ended in the 18th century, probably thanks to the Chinese:

the Qing Chinese empire in the eighteenth century successfully conquered and subdued the last of the great nomadic empires of Eurasia. For the first time in millennia no barbarian horsemen, no Huns, no Avars, no Mongols, surged across the great plains of Eurasia to sack and pillage Europe, China and the great civilisations of the Islamic world and India.

When a new barbarian empire emerged powerful enough to threaten the Ottomans, and by this I mean the Russian empire, it was successfully checked by the jealousy of the other European powers. It was also into this world … of empires that were not revitalised by new sets of barbarians, in the Middle East, in India and in China, that the European empires were able to make such inroads from the eighteenth century onwards.

Lepanto, as with so many other advances of that era, helped to usher in modernity to Europe with an emphasis on trade rather than war:

Lepanto can be seen as symbolic of that transition, described by the nineteenth-century French liberal philosopher Benjamin Constant, from the age of war to the age of commerce. Or as others might say, it can be considered as the birth of modernity. Even the overwhelming use of firepower can be found in the pages of Constant as a feature of the utilitarian approach to warfare favoured by commercial nations. The irony was that the somewhat ramshackle empires of sixteenth-century Europe, with their disorganised finances and administrative apparatuses much inferior to those of the Ottomans, would within 300 years come to dominate the world not because of their superior asabiya or virtue but because of their capacity to create modern efficient institutions far superior to the slave bureaucracy of the Ottomans, and because of their ability to deliver superior firepower.

This new European and commercial form of empire supplanted an older, more traditional imperial form. What this meant was that the old rules of empire, of an imperial expansion dictated by the need to conquer to attain booty and slaves and a decline governed by the need to protect its settled possessions from new predators, would give way to a new set of rules. These are the rules of the export and import of capital, as described by Niall Ferguson in his recent studies of the English and American empires.

Looking at present day developments in Europe, there does seem to be an envy of others to have what we Europeans have without contributing to our respective nations. When well-intended private and state generosity is met with Marxist-driven violence and disregard for the host citizenry, it is no wonder that many think of Lepanto.

As most of the world knows, Judge Brett Kavanaugh has been going through Hades during his nomination process to the American Supreme Court.

His wife, Ashley, and their two daughters have also been put through much unnecessary harassment and abuse.

Ashley Kavanaugh has asked people to pray for them and for the nation, specifically by praying Psalm 40. Some of my readers prefer the King James Version below:

Others might prefer the English Standard Version (ESV):

My Help and My Deliverer

To the choirmaster. A psalm of David.

40 I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord.

Blessed is the man who makes
    the Lord his trust,
who does not turn to the proud,
    to those who go astray after a lie!
You have multiplied, O Lord my God,
    your wondrous deeds and your thoughts toward us;
    none can compare with you!
I will proclaim and tell of them,
    yet they are more than can be told.

6 In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted,
    but you have given me an open ear.[a]
Burnt offering and sin offering
    you have not required.
Then I said, “Behold, I have come;
    in the scroll of the book it is written of me:
8 I delight to do your will, O my God;
    your law is within my heart.”

I have told the glad news of deliverance[b]
    in the great congregation;
behold, I have not restrained my lips,
    as you know, O Lord.
10 I have not hidden your deliverance within my heart;
    I have spoken of your faithfulness and your salvation;
I have not concealed your steadfast love and your faithfulness
    from the great congregation.

11 As for you, O Lord, you will not restrain
    your mercy from me;
your steadfast love and your faithfulness will
    ever preserve me!
12 For evils have encompassed me
    beyond number;
my iniquities have overtaken me,
    and I cannot see;
they are more than the hairs of my head;
    my heart fails me.

13 Be pleased, O Lord, to deliver me!
    O Lord, make haste to help me!
14 Let those be put to shame and disappointed altogether
    who seek to snatch away my life;
let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
    who delight in my hurt!
15 Let those be appalled because of their shame
    who say to me, “Aha, Aha!”

16 But may all who seek you
    rejoice and be glad in you;
may those who love your salvation
    say continually, “Great is the Lord!”
17 As for me, I am poor and needy,
    but the Lord takes thought for me.
You are my help and my deliverer;
    do not delay, O my God!

O Lord, please thwart the attempts of the Kavanaugh family’s foes. May their pernicious deeds be brought to light and to justice, whether in the Senate chamber, at home or at school.

Please also preserve the Great Republic, the United States of America, today and always.

We ask this humbly through Jesus Christ our Lord who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.

——————————————————–

Forbidden Bible Verses, all being well, is planned for tomorrow.

I was of two minds as to whether to report on the royal wedding which took place on Saturday, May 19, 2018.

I turned off the television after the Duke and Duchess of Sussex — Harry and Meghan — took their preliminary vows.

A wedding not a blessing

I wondered why they were given a full wedding ceremony rather than a church blessing, since Meghan Markle had been married previously.

However, Sky News reported that the Church of England changed the rules well over a decade ago (emphases mine below):

The Church of England agreed in 2002 that divorced people could remarry in church, with the discretion of the priest.

The duchess, a former actress:

married American film producer Trevor Engelson in 2011. They filed for divorce in 2013, citing “irreconcilable differences”.

The Most Reverend and Honourable Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, officiated at the service.

The Dean of Windsor, The Rt Revd David Conner, conducted the service and the initial vows (‘I will’), although rings were exchanged later in the service with the Archbishop of Canterbury officiating.

It was somewhat off-putting to hear the Dean’s words at the beginning, which included ‘the joy of sexual union’.

If people are getting married only to salve their consciences in that department, they’re headed down the wrong route.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that a marriage should be a partnership of equals — the best friendship a man and a woman can ever share with God’s blessing.

The second is that no one knows what the morrow will bring. I do know of young couples who were deprived of ‘the joy of sexual union’ early in their marriages because of sudden debilitating illness or accidents.

Friendship comes first in a marriage. The Dean would have been better placed to use the old American adage:

Kissin’ don’t last, cookin’ do.

Prince Charles took the wise decision to walk his future daughter-in-law part way down the aisle:

The Duke’s aunt, Princess Diana’s sister, gave the one reading of the ceremony:

Here is Justin Welby formally joining the couple in matrimony. These video clips are excellent. No one does weddings like the Church of England (I’m so pleased to be a part of it):

The presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States gave an address. BT.com reported:

The Most Rev Bishop Michael Curry, the first black presiding bishop and primate of the Episcopal Church, gained worldwide attention with his address at Prince Harry and Meghan’s wedding on Saturday during which he evoked Martin Luther King and spoke of poverty and injustice.

Mr Curry, along with the gospel choir, brought a flavour of the American bride’s homeland with the speech at St George’s Chapel in Windsor.

At the end of the ceremony, the happy couple left St George’s Chapel, Windsor:

Back story: Meghan’s Baptism and Confirmation

The Duchess of Sussex was baptised and confirmed privately prior to the wedding.

Sky News reported:

Prince Harry and Ms Markle announced their engagement in November. A day later Kensington Palace confirmed that Meghan, who identifies as Protestant, would be baptised and confirmed ahead of her wedding day.

Heavy had more:

According to Access, Markle has already been accepted into the Anglican faith, and Welby baptized her in a secret ceremony in March 2018.

The cake and reception

The Queen hosted the first reception:

Sir Elton John, who had sung at Princess Diana’s funeral, performed:

Thankfully, the cake was not the usual heavy fruitcake:

A filling made from Amalfi lemon curd and elderflower buttercream ties all the elements together. The cake is decorated with Swiss meringue buttercream and 150 fresh flowers, mainly British, and in season, including peonies and roses.

Then it was time for the second wedding reception:

Official wedding prayer

This is the couple’s wedding prayer from the Church of England:

But Heavy pointed out:

This stands in contrast to the previous royal wedding, between then-Prince William and Kate Middleton, who wrote their own prayer for the ceremony, as the Telegraph reported.

God our Father, we thank
you for our families; for
the love that we share and
for the joy of our marriage.
In the busyness of each day keep our eyes fixed on
what is real and important
in life and help us to be generous with our time
and love and energy.
Strengthened by our union, help us to serve and comfort those who suffer. We ask this in the Spirit of Jesus Christ. Amen.

I have prayed for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex and hope that they grow together in the peace and love of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, May 3, 2018 was National Day of Prayer in the United States.

People in other Western countries make fun of Americans for being religious, but independence, leading to nationhood, was gained thanks to prayer.

As President Trump said, in part, in the Rose Garden last Thursday (emphases mine):

On this National Day of Prayer, we join together to offer gratitude for our many blessings and to acknowledge our need for divine wisdom, guidance, and protection. Prayer, by which we affirm our dependence on God, has long been fundamental to our pursuit of freedom, peace, unity, and prosperity. Prayer sustains us and brings us comfort, hope, peace, and strength. Therefore, we must cherish our spiritual foundation and uphold our legacy of faith.

Prayer has been a source of guidance, strength, and wisdom since the founding of our Republic. When the Continental Congress gathered in Philadelphia to contemplate freedom from Great Britain, the delegates prayed daily for guidance. Their efforts produced the Declaration of Independence and its enumeration of the self-evident truths that we all cherish today. We believe that all men and women are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Prayer sustained us and gave us the strength to endure the sacrifices and suffering of the American Revolution and to temper the triumph of victory with humility and gratitude. Notably, as one of its first acts, our newly formed Congress appointed chaplains of the House of Representatives and Senate so that all proceedings would begin with prayer.

The power of prayer makes the impossible possible.

Jesus Light of the World 616Christ the King Sunday — also known as the Feast of Christ the King and Stir up Sunday — was on November 26, 2017.

This feast day is the last Sunday of the Church year.

December 2, 2017, is the first Sunday in Advent. From then through the week following the next Christ the King Sunday, readings will come from Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

Christ the King Sunday

Pope Pius XI created this feast day in 1925 to combat secularism imposed by dictatorships around the world at that time. Until 1960, the feast day was the last Sunday in October. With Vatican II, it was moved to the end of November.

As Protestant denominations began using the Lectionary in the 1970s, more of them gradually adopted the feast. Wikipedia tells us (bold emphases in the original, the one in purple mine):

Those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary observe Christ the King Sunday as the final Sunday of their liturgical years.[12] These churches include most major Anglican and mainline Protestant groups, including the Church of England, Episcopal Church, Anglican Church in North America, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and other Lutheran groups, United Methodist Church and other Methodist groups, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the United Church of Christ, and the Moravian Church. Some, such as the Uniting Church in Australia refer to it in non-gendered terms as feast of The Reign of Christ.

In the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Sweden, this day is referred to as the Sunday of Doom, previously highlighting the final judgement, though after the Lectionary of 1983 the theme of the day was amended to the Return of Christ. In the Church in Wales, part of the Anglican Communion, the 4 Sundays before Advent are called the “Sundays of the Kingdom” and Christ the King is observed as a season and not a single festal day.

The United Methodist Church website has details on the impact the feast had in Mexico in the 1920s (emphases mine below):

It was first added in 1925 by the Roman Catholic Church in response to increasing secularization movements worldwide, but in particular to the plight of Mexican Christians who were being told by their government that only their government was due ultimate allegiance. The Church in Mexico remained faithful, holding public parades throughout the land (with significant governmental pushback!) proclaiming “Cristo Rey!,” “Christ is King!” Pope Pius XI made that declaration the basis of a Holy Day to be observed throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, “Christ, The King of the Universe.”

In Britain, the feast is popularly known as Stir up Sunday, the time when women start making their Christmas cakes, which need the ensuing weeks in order to achieve maximum flavour and texture. The name comes from the traditional Collect:

Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that they bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be richly rewarded: through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

Of course, in our postmodern era, some Christians object to the use of gender-oriented language, such as the word ‘king’. Therefore, some churches refer to it as Reign of Christ Sunday.

The aforementioned United Methodist Church article has a social justice tone to it regarding this particular feast day:

Here’s the part we may not like as well, but must pay attention to.

This shepherd takes sides.

This is also the shepherd who will choose to ignore or even destroy the sheep who have prospered at the expense of those who have been injured and scattered, those who have pushed or shoved the others out of the way to get all the choicest pasture for themselves, those who made themselves strong on the backs of those who were weaker and whom they made weaker still. This shepherd has no interest in their preservation. They are like a cancer, taking and consuming resources for themselves and their own purposes that were intended to be made available for the good of the whole body. If they will survive at all, it will be without the help of this shepherd.

This shepherd sides with the weak, the outcast, the damaged, the diseased, the abandoned, the marginalized.

That is what the Year A readings say, certainly, but there are different readings for the other two Lectionary years.

ChurchYear.Net understands our Saviour, the King of Kings, more broadly:

The earliest Christians identified Jesus with the predicted Messiah of the Jews. The Jewish word “messiah,” and the Greek word “Christ,” both mean “anointed one,” and came to refer to the expected king who would deliver Israel from the hands of the Romans. Christians believe that Jesus is this expected Messiah. Unlike the messiah most Jews expected, Jesus came to free all people, Jew and Gentile, and he did not come to free them from the Romans, but from sin and death. Thus the king of the Jews, and of the cosmos, does not rule over a kingdom of this world.

ChurchYear.Net explains Pius XI’s original objectives for establishing this feast day:

Pius hoped the institution of the feast would have various effects. They were:

1. That nations would see that the Church has the right to freedom, and immunity from the state (Quas Primas, 32).
2. That leaders and nations would see that they are bound to give respect to Christ (Quas Primas, 31).
3. That the faithful would gain strength and courage from the celebration of the feast, as we are reminded that Christ must reign in our hearts, minds, wills, and bodies (Quas Primas, 33).

Today, the same distrust of authority exists, although the problem has gotten worse. Individualism has been embraced to such an extreme, that for many, the only authority is the individual self. The idea of Christ as ruler is rejected in such a strongly individualistic system. Also, many balk at the idea of kings and queens, believing them to be antiquated and possibly oppressive. Some even reject the titles of “lord” and “king” for Christ because they believe that such titles are borrowed from oppressive systems of government. However true these statements might be (some kings have been oppressive), these individuals miss the point: Christ’s kingship is one of humility and service.

The site also has a separate page of prayers and hymns for Christ the King Sunday.

The readings for 2017 — Year A — are on the Vanderbilt University Lectionary site. The respective Epistle and Gospel follow:

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

——————————–

Matthew 25:31-46

25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory.

25:32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,

25:33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;

25:35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,

25:36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

25:37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?

25:38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?

25:39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

25:40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

25:41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;

25:42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,

25:43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

25:44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’

25:45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

25:46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

First Sunday of Advent

The Epistle and Gospel readings for the First Sunday of Advent — Lectionary Year B — continue a similar theme, about being prepared for the Final Judgement.

Note that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians mentions thankfulness, spiritual strength and spiritual gifts — all coming from God — and being called into the fellowship of Christ Jesus:

1 Corinthians 1:3-9

1:3 Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

1:4 I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus,

1:5 for in every way you have been enriched in him, in speech and knowledge of every kind–

1:6 just as the testimony of Christ has been strengthened among you–

1:7 so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:8 He will also strengthen you to the end, so that you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1:9 God is faithful; by him you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

In Mark’s Gospel, we read Jesus’s warning about not knowing when the time will come, therefore, be prepared — ‘keep alert’, ‘keep awake’:

Mark 13:24-37

13:24 “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,

13:25 and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

13:26 Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory.

13:27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

13:28 “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.

13:29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates.

13:30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.

13:31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

13:32 “But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.

13:33 Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.

13:34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

13:35 Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn,

13:36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.

13:37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Most Christians observe Advent as a time of spiritual preparation for Christmas. I will feature Advent posts and resources in the coming weeks.

Until then, readers might find Vanderbilt’s Advent resources and this page of Sunday readings useful.

On Friday, September 1, 2017, President Donald Trump proclaimed that Sunday would be a National Day of Prayer in the United States for those affected by Hurricane Harvey — victims, first responders and rescuers:

Trump’s pastor friends are behind him laying on hands in prayer. Pastor Robert Jeffress is on the left with the red tie.

Trump also thanked the first responders and rescuers doing so much to mitigate Harvey’s ravaging effects.

Trump spoke then signed the proclamation (3:08 mark above). The White House has a transcript of his proclamation, most of which follows:

Americans have always come to the aid of their fellow countrymen — friend helping friend, neighbor helping neighbor, and stranger helping stranger — and we vow to do so in response to Hurricane Harvey. From the beginning of our Nation, Americans have joined together in prayer during times of great need, to ask for God’s blessings and guidance. This tradition dates to June 12, 1775, when the Continental Congress proclaimed a day of prayer following the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and April 30, 1789, when President George Washington, during the Nation’s first Presidential inauguration, asked Americans to pray for God’s protection and favor.

When we look across Texas and Louisiana, we see the American spirit of service embodied by countless men and women. Brave first responders have rescued those stranded in drowning cars and rising water. Families have given food and shelter to those in need. Houses of worship have organized efforts to clean up communities and repair damaged homes. Individuals of every background are striving for the same goal — to aid and comfort people facing devastating losses. As Americans, we know that no challenge is too great for us to overcome.

As response and recovery efforts continue, and as Americans provide much needed relief to the people of Texas and Louisiana, we are reminded of Scripture’s promise that “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Melania and I are grateful to everyone devoting time, effort, and resources to the ongoing response, recovery, and rebuilding efforts. We invite all Americans to join us as we continue to pray for those who have lost family members or friends, and for those who are suffering in this time of crisis.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, DONALD J. TRUMP, President of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim September 3, 2017, as a National Day of Prayer for the Victims of Hurricane Harvey and for our National Response and Recovery Efforts. We give thanks for the generosity and goodness of all those who have responded to the needs of their fellow Americans. I urge Americans of all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds to offer prayers today for all those harmed by Hurricane Harvey, including people who have lost family members or been injured, those who have lost homes or other property, and our first responders, law enforcement officers, military personnel, and medical professionals leading the response and recovery efforts. Each of us, in our own way, may call upon our God for strength and comfort during this difficult time. I call on all Americans and houses of worship throughout the Nation to join in one voice of prayer, as we seek to uplift one another and assist those suffering from the consequences of this terrible storm.

The Left went mad.

They complained of mixing church and state. Unlike France, the United States does not prohibit the mixing of church and state. The United States grants the freedom for people to practise their own religion and says there will be no state religion. For more information on church and state in America, see ‘Church, state and the First Amendment’, which I wrote earlier this year.

They accused Trump of intimating that people who were non-Christian could not participate. Does he have to draw them a picture every time he speaks? Everyone was encouraged to participate in their own way: ‘all faiths and religious traditions and backgrounds’.

The aforementioned Pastor Jeffress gave an interview to Judge Jeanine Pirro of Fox News on November 2. He is grateful that God gave America Donald Trump:

I read somewhere last week that President Trump might not be a religious president, but he is a prayerful one. That works for me.

In July 2012 — the year of Obama’s re-election — there was the 714-PROJECT for America, which was a general — not presidential — call to prayer and meditation based on 2 Chronicles 7:14. That verse was useful then and continues to be so now:

I think of that verse often, not only for the US, but also for other nations, including the UK.

However, it does not take a national day of prayer for the faithful to bow their heads and ask for God’s blessing (the date of the tweet shows here as November 3 but is actually November 2):

Breitbart has a good article on previous National Days of Prayer. Excerpts follow.

As Trump said, Washington was the first to make such a proclamation:

“No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States,” Washington declared in his first Inaugural Address, the first words uttered by a president of the United States.

It is therefore hardly surprising that when the first Congress passed a resolution on September 25, 1789, calling upon Washington to proclaim a National Day of Prayer, the Father of His Country issued a proclamation to all Americans that November 26, 1789, would be a day to “offer our prayers and supplications to the Great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions.”

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful to his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor,” Washington’s proclamation begins, then encourages Americans to pray in their churches and homes on the designated day …

John Adams, the second president, made two: in 1798 and 1799. He asked for a day of:

solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer.

From James Madison — the fourth president — onwards, every president proclaimed that at least one day be a National Day of Prayer.

This was not a rare occurrence.

In 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed March 30 to be a:

Day of National Humiliation, Fasting, and Prayer.

He announced:

Whereas it is the duty of nations as well as of men to owe their dependence upon the overruling power of God, to confess their sins and transgressions in humble sorrow, yet with assured hope that genuine repentance will lead to mercy and pardon, and to recognize the sublime truth, announced in the Holy Scriptures and proven by all history, that those nations only are blessed whose God is the Lord; I do hereby request all the people to abstain on that day from their ordinary secular pursuits, and to unite at their several places of public worship and their respective homes in keeping the day holy to the Lord and devoted to the humble discharge of the religious duties proper to that solemn occasion.

The proclamations of national days of prayer continued until 1952.

In 1952, President Harry S Truman’s and Congress’s intentions were good, however, instituting the first Thursday of May as the National Day of Prayer in perpetuity became a day viewed by most as a time when the president’s favourite pastors go to the White House for prayer and breakfast. It is no longer an exceptional occasion which captures most Americans’ hearts. It should, but, as the decades pass, it just looks too institutionalised.

It’s better to retain that and, when necessary, add special National Days of Prayer for specific events.

Various presidents after Truman have done so. Prior to President Trump, the last to do so was George W Bush after 9/11 in 2001.

Obama had no specially designated National Days of Prayer.

Thank goodness that President Trump is resuming the tradition.

To those who do not understand a national call to prayer, Breitbart explains:

all the Establishment Clause forbids is the government officially adopting a national religion or coercing Americans to participate in a religious activity that violates their conscience.

This is what would be unconstitutional:

ordering Americans to attend church to pray this Sunday and threatening them with federal prison if they refuse …

These National Days of Prayer are appeals:

issuing a proclamation that encourages all Americans who are willing to offer prayers that accord with their individual conscience is entirely constitutional.

The Left questioned whether Trump went to church on Sunday.

Yes, he did.

He attended St John’s Episcopal Church — the Church of the Presidents — which is in Lafayette Square, very close to the White House:

As the Trumps left after the service, the president answered a question from the press:

In case that video gets deleted, here are three tweets: first, second and third.

It was great to see tweets from others who participated in this National Day of Prayer at their own local churches:

Hurricane Harvey presented a perfect opportunity to unite the country and bring people closer to God through an officially proclaimed National Day of Prayer.

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