This is a special Sunday for me. Friday marked the 28th anniversary of my ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. It was on Sunday, June 23, 1991, that I celebrated my first mass. So I am grateful to you and to Fr. George for the privilege of an altar at which to celebrate the Holy Mysteries and a pulpit from which to preach the gospel on this, my anniversary Sunday.
Now that I am retired, I am filling part of my time studying Irish. In the world of Irish studies, I am what is known as a foghlaimeoir, which is to say “an Irish learner.” The truth is that I have been a foghlaimeoir for over eleven years, but I have not yet progressed to the level of Gaeilgeoir, that is, “an Irish speaker.” Studying Irish is one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done; it is both fascinating and maddening, and I think that among the reasons for that are the cultural assumptions which underly the language.
There is an old tradition in the church: on Trinity Sunday, rectors do their best to get someone else to preach. If they have a curate or associate priest, he or she gets the pulpit on that day. If not, they try to invite some old retired priest to fill in (as Father George has done today). No one really wants to preach on Trinity Sunday, the only day of the Christian year given to the celebration or commemoration of a theological doctrine, mostly because theology is dull, dry, and boring to most people and partly because this particular theology is one most of us get wrong no matter how much we try to do otherwise. Back when I was a curate getting the Trinity Sunday assignment, my rector encouraged me with the sunny observation that, listening to a sermon in almost any church on Trinity Sunday, one could be practically guaranteed to hear heresy.
As I started preparing to preach on this Trinity Sunday, however, I thought, “I have an out, a handy escape hatch” because today is not only the church’s feast of the one, holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, it is also the secular, some say “Hallmark,” holiday of Father’s Day. So, I thought, “I’ll talk about Father’s Day and if the Trinity decides to show up, well … that’ll be fine.”
I retired from active parish ministry as a priest in the Episcopal Church in December 2018 after nearly 29 years in holy orders, more than half that time as rector of one parish. Since then, my wife and I have visited several Episcopal congregations in this and other dioceses on Sunday mornings, not as supply clergy and spouse but simply as visiting worshipers.
In nearly every case, we have been greeted by friendly people, found worship that is lively and engaging, enjoyed sermons that are masterfully crafted and well preached by erudite clergy, and left feeling that we have encountered a loving God in a vibrant community. Oh to be sure, we have been able to find minor aspects to criticize, but these are merely the quibblings of professional church geeks; sharing them is how we amuse ourselves on the drive home. In the main, though, we have been very impressed at how well the Episcopal Church follows the first great commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Lenten Journal, Good Friday
It is said that the dogwood used to be a tree of mighty stature, taller and stronger than the oak. It was also a tree that spread around the world. Because of its abundance and strength, it was the tree chosen by the Romans to make the crosses on which they executed criminals.
One day, however, the wood of the dogwood tree was formed into a cross and used to crucify an innocent man, a man who, it turned out, was the Son of God. The dogwood was bereft. Sensing its grief and shame Christ said to the tree, “No longer will you be used for this purpose. You shall from now on grow, not tall and strong, but slender and weak. Further, your flower shall form a reminder of the cross and each petal will bear a mark of the nails. You need not be ashamed, nor need you grieve. You will be a reminder of my willing sacrifice.”
Lenten Journal, Day 41
“Day 41” seems odd to write in a Lenten journal, but I’ve not separated out Sundays in my count of the days. We say “40 days of Lent” because Sundays are excluded; there are actually 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. I started this journal on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday and called that entry “Day 1” … so, weird or not, I’m calling this “Day 41” of Lent.
It’s also “Chrism Tuesday” (not an official name), the day on which clergy gather with their bishop to renew their ordination vows. The actual traditional day for this is Maundy Thursday but somewhere along the line American dioceses moved this service to Tuesday in Holy Week. Today marks the first time in my ordained life that I have not attended the Chrism Mass. Instead, I went to the orthopaedic clinic and endured a session of biometric measurement gauging the progress of my knee replacement recovery.
Lenten Journal, Day 40
A picture of Fionna popped up on my Facebook “wall” this week. It has done so before. Whenever it does, it brings tears to my eyes. I am reminded how important having a dog is in my life. I remember my former companions: my first dog, Baron; the dog who kept me sane throughout college, Shadrak; the stray Cocker Spaniel we came to call “the best dog ever,” Josephine; and all the others.
It is said that Martin Luther was a dog-lover. He had a little dog named Tölpel (which is German for “fool”). He once said of dogs, “The dog is the most faithful of animals and would be much esteemed were it not so common. Our Lord God has made His greatest gifts the commonest.”
Lenten Journal, Day 39, Palm Sunday
Yesterday and the day before I wrote in this journal but did not post what I had written to Facebook as I have throughout the rest of Lent. Friday was our 39th wedding anniversary and Saturday, being the day before Palm Sunday, is when Evelyn and I remember the day our daughter disappeared (she was later found and all is well). What I wrote yesterday and Friday was simply too personal to put out on public social media.
Today we have stayed home from church because Evelyn has a rip-roaring upper respiratory infection. You should hear her cough! As we have done so, I have been thinking about the way we have commemorated Palm Sunday as married persons for the last 39 years. Except that year when Caitlin went missing, they have been invariably the same (as least for me): Saturday spent decorating the church with palms; Sunday the simple 8 a.m. distribution of palms within the context of Holy Communion; the later service a big production number beginning with a procession around the church and through the cemetery (if there was one nearby, as there has been here in Medina and was in San Diego), a choral Eucharist, the dramatic reading of the Passion Narrative.
Lenten Journal, Day 36
I really wish that were true (it means “I speak Irish”). I don’t. I study Irish. I forget Irish. I study it again.
That is how I spent today; using Duolingo and a free online course from Dublin City University, I have spent the day refreshing my memory of the Irish language, recalling things I learned a decade ago at a school in the Connemara Gaeltacht north and west of Galway City.
Irish is just one of the languages I have studied. I took Spanish in grades 5 through 8 in the Los Angeles city schools. I studied Latin throughout high school. I took Italian in an immersion course in Florence in 1969 and then French in a longer immersion course in Paris in 1973. I cannot speak, read, or write in any of these languages, although I could back in the day.
Lenten Journal, Day 35
Last night I looked up into the black sky
where a silver crescent moon gave way to stars
and found the Big Dipper, that major bear,
pointing to Polaris and I felt
like a kid again
In the hours before dawn this morning
walking the dog as I usually do
I looked up again and found Orion, the hunter,
with his three-star studded belt and sword,
striding across the sky
Staying up late, arising early to see the sky
I was the science kid
who knew the stars and the planets
Walking now beneath them
I recall the joy of discovery
I greet old friends
Timeless and changeless the same stars
marched the sky in ancient Palestine
but timeless and changeless
only because of distance
their now a million years gone
locked with Jesus’ now millennia gone
locked with my now still unfolding
a kairos combination of
then and now and long ago and yet to be
as it was in the beginning
and will be forever
–– C. Eric Funston, “Stars,” 10 April 2019
Note: The illustration is from NASA: The Big Dipper Enhanced; Image Credit & Copyright: VegaStar Carpentier)
Lenten Journal, Day 34
My intention when I started this exercise in Lenten discipline was to write for an hour each morning with no preconceptions about what I would be writing. Just sit down, put a figurative piece of paper in my imaginary typewriter, and start pounding the keys. It hasn’t quite worked out that way, but I have made the attempt (most days) to at least write something sometime during each 24 hour period.
Similarly, it was my intention to return to the gym (the Medina Recreation Center) this morning and do another half-hour of aerobic exercise on the recumbent crosstrainer and the indoor track. And similarly it’s not going to work out that way.