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good works prepared beforehand
March 18, 2012

+In the Name…

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

Over the years of my ministry as a priest, I have often given as a penance to one who has made his or her sacramental Confession, Psalm 139, wherein are found these verses:  “I will give thanks unto thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvelous are thy works, and that my soul knoweth right well.  My bones are not hid from thee, though I be made secretly, and fashioned beneath in the earth.  Thine eyes did see my substance, yet being imperfect: and in thy book are my members written; Which day by day were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them” (verses 13-16).

I have given this particular Psalm as a penance to penitents because I wanted them to know that they were very special to God – despite their sins that had offended the righteousness of God.  Many a time a penitent, and we in general, need to know that we are special to God – that we are unique in His sight and in His creation; that there is no one like us, because He made us that way.

When we feel lonely; when we feel worthless and unappreciated by the world; when we feel that no one really knows and understands us, we need to know that God does; that He loves us; that we are precious in His sight, and that He has some particular role that we are to play for Him; that He wants us to engage in some particular good works to His glory – no matter what people say; whether they see what He is doing in and though us; and whether the good works we strive to do bear fruit in our own lifetime.

Blessed John Henry Newman said this so well:

“God has created me to Him some definite service; He has committed to me some work which He has not committed to another.  I have my mission – I may never know it in this life, but I shall know it in the next.  I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons.  He has not created me for naught.  I shall do good.  I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.  Therefore I will trust Him.  Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away.  If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him.  My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us.  He does nothing in vain:  He may prolong my life, He may shorten it; He knows what He is about.  He may take away my friends.  He may throw me among strangers.  He may make me feel desolate, make my spirits sink, hide the future from me – still He knows what He is about.”

You and I are called as individuals, and in the community of faith in which He has placed us, to be used by Him – “created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, in his great gift to the Church of the Book of Common Prayer in 16th century England, in a time of great religious tension on so many fronts that we hope to help heal in our own day, wrote what we know as the “Post-Communion Prayer.”  We corporately pray at every Mass, as we will today, within this great prayer following the reception of our Lord’s Body and Blood:  “And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in…”  Cranmer, as he did in so many places of the Book of Common Prayer, employs the Word of God in the prayers he wrote for corporate worship,  using here those from the passage of this sermon’s focus from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God has prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

We are God’s workmanship.  He created us, and created us to love Him, and to serve Him.  He created us in our own uniqueness to do such good works which He prepared beforehand for us to do.  We are to walk in them, because, as Blessed John Henry Newman said, “He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another.”  He has committed in each of us for the common good some work which He has not committed to another.

So how do we know what the “work” is that God has committed to us and not to another?  Well, we first pray – we ask God to show us what the “work” is.  We are to keep praying about this until we know with some certainty.  Along with such prayers, realizing that God answers prayers in many ways and at different times and occasions, we review where we’ve been – how God has been at work in us previously; what He has led us to know about ourselves; and where He has led us.  In other words, we take the time to see where we’ve been and where we are now, spiritually and physically in the place and community we are in; and we spend lots of time in prayer seeking His guidance and direction, always praying, “Thy will be done, Thy will be done, Thy will be done.”

In these times of prayerful seeking, there may be what is known as “The Dark Night of the Soul” – a time when we don’t sense the presence of God or when we are very confused about what we are to do.  The great saints of the Church speak of these times.  So if they do, we can expect such times; but they do pass in time, as they did for them.

And we should all avail ourselves of spiritual direction from someone else who is spiritually wise and disciplined.  We are never to be our own spiritual guide.  Because we are connected to others in bonds of love and affection, God uses others to speak of God for us.  Whether it be in spiritual reading or one-to-one counsel and direction, we are to be open to hear, listen, learn, and grow spiritually.

For us here in the Newman Fellowship, we keep our hands to plow.  We are a community of faith on a certain path as Anglo-Catholics to unity with Catholic Church in the Ordinariate, however God provides and whenever He opens a door – on which path and pilgrimage God calls each and every one of us to do the works which He has prepared for us to walk in.  You see, God both values us each individually, saying, “You have something important and critical to do,” and at the same time, uses us as a group as He weaves the tapestry of our individual works and offerings.

But, saying this, I will in no way hinder those of you who may feel led to into the Ordinariate outside of this Fellowship when you can.  You will have my blessing, and the love and prayers of all here.  Be assured of that because the journey remains the same for all, but arrival times may be at different times.  We’re all hopefully about God’s will, not our own.

But (God willing) we will remain a community of faith that has known and continues to know so many blessings and provisions, but in recent times has known some serious obstacles, concerns, and even reservations, but a special community of faith that needs to stay the course.  God uses both the good and the hard to forge us into something stronger and better.  I know, if I may so, that He is doing that in me.  So may I once again call to your minds the words of Blessed John Henry Newman, who knew both the good times and the bad so deeply:

“Lead Kindly Light, amidst th’ encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home – Lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet: I do not ask to see the distant scene, - one step enough for me.”

So on this mid-Lent Sunday known as Rose Sunday, Laetare Sunday (“Rejoice”), Mothering Sunday (primarily in England), and Refreshment Sunday, let us rejoice in God’s Providential love which is so often so mysterious, and let us let Him refresh us and strengthen our spirits in the knowledge that He has given us good works to do which He has prepared beforehand.

+In the Name…

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