Archive for the ‘Lesslie Newbigin’ Tag

Feast of Soren Kierkegaard (September 8)   1 comment

Above:  Portrait of Søren Kierkegaard, by Luplau Janssen

Image in the Public Domain

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SØREN AABYE KIERKEGAARD (MAY 5, 1813-NOVEMBER 11, 1855)

Danish Philosopher and Theologian, and Father of Existentialism

Søren Kierkegaard comes to A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days via the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), and The Episcopal Church.  The Lutheran feast day (since 1978) is November 11.  The Episcopal feast day (since 2009) is September 8, also the Feast of Nikolai Grundtvig in The Episcopal Church.  I suspect that the decision to assign Kierkegaard the feast day of September 8, along with Grundtvig, is related to the rationale for group commemorations, but, in this case, without merging the feasts.

Not all those included in the Calendar need to be commemorated “in isolation.”  Where there are close and natural links between persons to be remembered, a joint commemoration would make excellent sense….

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 744; A Great Cloud of Witnesses:  A Calendar of Commemorations (2016), A74

My father was a United Methodist minister in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  One morning, in Sunday School in one of those congregations, the teacher of an adult class made an assertion (the details of which I cannot recall, and do not matter anyway) then said that he had faith and had proof.  I recognized the elements (faith and proof) of the last part of that statement as being mutually exclusive.  Kierkegaard would have done more than arch an eyebrow, had he heard that Sunday School teacher’s statement.

Kierkegaard:  A Brief Biography

Søren Aabye Kierkegaard, born in Copenhagen, Denmark, on May 5, 1813, became more influential after his lifetime than he was during it.  His father was Michael Pederson Kierkegaard (d. 1838), an erstwhile farmer who had moved to the capital city and became a prosperous wool merchant.  Michael was also a melancholy, puritanical who passed his disposition down to his guild-ridden son.  Søren, initially planning to become a minister in the state Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark, studied theology at the University of Copenhagen from 1830 to 1840.  Although our saint never lost his faith in God, he became hostile to the state church, so he never pursued ordination.  He, living off inherited wealth, focused on writing books and articles (often under pseudonyms) in the fields of theology, psychology, ethics, and philosophy.  Our saint never married, for reasons biographers have interpreted in different ways.  He, engaged to Regine Olsen (1822-1904), in 1840-1841, broke off the engagement and never told her his reasons.

As I explained in the post about Bishop Grundtvig, the dominant strain in Danish Lutheranism at the time was Rationalism, which reduced ministers to teachers of morality and Christianity to an idea–a reasonable one, of course.  Grundtvig challenged Rationalism from within the state church, which he transformed.  Kierkegaard, however, condemned the state church as a mockery of Christianity.

In the thought of Kierkegaard proof negated faith.  If one could prove the Incarnation, the existence of God, and the truth of Christianity, one would negate faith and replace it with evidence.  A leap of faith was necessary.  Absolute knowledge was neither rational nor possible, our saint insisted, contradicting Georg Hegel.  Kierkegaard also contradicted a raft of Greek philosophers who taught that people have the truth inside them and need merely to become conscious of that fact.  No, our saint wrote, both the truth and the ability to understand it come from outside–from God, to be precise.

Kierkegaard had another objection to the Danish state church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Denmark:  It made being a Christian too easy.  Challenges were inherent in the Christian pilgrimage of faith, our saint understood.  Did not Jesus command each person to take up his or her cross and follow Him?  The union of church and state in Denmark robbed the Danish state church of its authenticity and power, Kierkegaard argued.

Kierkegaard, aged 42 years, died in Copenhagen on November 11, 1855.  He had been paralyzed since he had collapsed in a street on October 2.  To the end our saint refused offers of ministrations by ministers of the state church.  He said,

Royal functionaries are not related to Christianity.

An Influential Legacy

Kierkegaard, although a prolific and widely read author during his lifetime, was also a frequently ignored one, especially by bishops of the state church.  Yet his influence spread posthumously, due in large part to translations of many of his works.  Oft-cited thinkers who owed much to Kierkegaard’s writings included the existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre (1905-1980) and the Neo-Orthodox theologians Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) and Karl Barth (1886-1968).

To that list I add another one none of my sources mentioned:  Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998).  He taught that to argue for the truth of the Gospel based on an outside standard of reliability is to make the outside standard more important than the Gospel.  Nothing, Newbigin insisted, was more important than the Gospel, and the sole ground for a Christian’s proper confidence in the truth of the Gospel was Jesus.  Newbigin, like Kierkegaard, opposed efforts to make Christianity”reasonable.”  And Newbigin used gentler rhetoric than Kierkegaard did.

God continues to speak through the writings of Søren Kierkegaard, fortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 7, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF COLBERT S. CARTWRIGHT, U.S. DISCIPLES OF CHRIST MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT GUGLIELMO MASSAIA, ITALIAN CARDINAL, MISSIONARY, AND CAPUCHIN FRIAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN SCRIMGER, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICTRICIUS OF ROUEN, ROMAN CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Heavenly Father, whose beloved Son Jesus Christ felt sorrow and dread in the Garden of Gethsemane:

Help us to remember that though we walk through the valley of the shadow, you are always with us,

that with your philosopher Søren Kierkegaard,

we may believe what we have not seen and trust where we cannot test,

and so come at length to the eternal joy which you have prepared for those who love you;

through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting.  Amen.

Exodus 33:14-23

Psalm 22:1-11

1 Timothy 1:12-17

Matthew 9:20-22

Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), 569

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Feast of Venerable Felix Varela (February 25)   Leave a comment

felix-varela

Above:  Felix Varela

Image in the Public Domain

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VENERABLE FELIX VARELA (NOVEMBER 20, 1788-FEBRUARY 27, 1853)

Cuban Roman Catholic Priest and Patriot

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I have always concluded that Christianity and liberty are inseparable.

–Felix Varela, Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 91

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Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998) agreed with that perspective.

The Venerable Felix Varela was an important figure in Cuban history.  He, born in Havana on November 20, 1788, grew up in St. Augustine, Florida, with his maternal grandfather.  Our saint, ordained to the priesthood in 1811, taught philosophy, physics, music, theology, and chemistry at San Carlos College, Havana.  In 1821 Varela became a delegate to the Cortes in Madrid.  He introduced two crucial bills–one to abolish slavery in Cuba and another to grant Cuban independence.  For this alleged sedition Varela had to go into exile in 1823.

Our saint spent the rest of his life in exile.  In New York City he served as a priest.  In 1827 he founded the Church of Immigrants, later renamed the Church of the Transfiguration.  He also lobbied for Cuban independence via the Spanish-language newspaper he founded.  This activism concerned the Spanish government sufficiently to send an assassin, but Varela talked him out of committing the act.  Our saint, who became the Vicar General of the Archdiocese of New York in 1837, received his doctorate in theology from St. Mary’s Seminary, Baltimore.  The defender of the rights of immigrants also considered the lack of religiosity to be a threat to the moral fabric of society and antecedent of tyranny.  He also criticized Roman Catholics who opposed liberty and constitutional government, for he argued that the suppression of liberty leads to fanaticism and dogmatism.

Varela retired to St. Augustine, Florida, where he died on February 27, 1853.  He was 64 years old.

The Roman Catholic Church declared Varela a Venerable in 2012.

The cause for his beatification and canonization is in progress.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 10, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL EBER, GERMAN LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HOWELL ELVET LEWIS, WELSH CONGREGATIONALIST CLERGYMAN AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN ROBERTS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF ROBERT MURRAY, CANADIAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.

Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and make no peace with oppression.

Help us, like your servant Venerable Felix Varela,

to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

–Adapted from Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60

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Reflections During an Interlude in the Renovation of A Great Cloud of Witnesses: An Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days   Leave a comment

january

Above:  January, by Leandro Bassano

Image in the Public Domain

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The first phase of the renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days has ended; I have completed the first twelfth of the process here at SUNDRY THOUGHTS.  The number of posts at this weblog has hovered around 1500, give or take a few posts, as I have added, deleted, and replaced some posts and revised others.

Thinking about saints and contemplating sainthood are rewarding spiritual practices.  They are foreign to the spiritual traditions of my childhood; the Southern Baptist Convention and The United Methodist Church do not encourage keeping a calendar of saints.  Nevertheless, observing an official calendar of saints (in The Episcopal Church) and creating my own such calendar has come naturally to me.  I, as a historian, emphasize the great men and women of the past.  Also, my inclination is toward the Roman Catholic end of the spectrum in certain ways.

Nevertheless, as helpful as Anglican, Lutheran, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox calendars of saints have proven to be and continue to help me with my own project, I have chosen not to restrict myself to their selections of saints and their assigned feast days.  This tendency has proven to be a manifestation of the Protestant side of my spirituality.

Rome has spoken,

many Roman Catholics say, meaning it as a statement of finality and authority.  At least half the time I think,

So what?

I learn and import much from Holy Mother Church, but I also walk my own path much of the time.  After all, Rome took more than 300 years to rescind the pronouncement that Galileo Galilei was a heretic for stating the scientific fact that the Earth revolves around the Sun.  The Church also canonized Robert Bellarmine, Galileo’s inquisitor who chose ignorance of good science in lieu of tradition and bad theology, as well as condoning to burning heretics at the stake.  (The Ecumenical Calendar does not include St. Robert Bellarmine.)

As I contemplate saints with feast days in January (at least on my Ecumenical Calendar), I understand them to be quite an assortment of people.  Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas, for example, held one opinion regarding the nature of knowledge and certainty; Lesslie Newbigin argued for a different position.  Some saints were ascetics, but others lived comfortably.  Some were spouses and parents; others chose never to marry.  Some were traditionalists, but others were pioneers.  I would have liked to have known some saints, but I would not have enjoyed the company of certain others, such as St. Jerome.  Some of these saints would have accused me of heresy, but others would have agreed with me, at least partially, or disagreed with me respectfully.  So be it.

I anticipate the next phase (February) of the renovation of my Ecumenical Calendar.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

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Feast of Lesslie Newbigin (January 30)   8 comments

Bishop Lesslie Newbigin

Above:  Lesslie Newbigin

Image in the Public Domain

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JAMES EDWARD LESSLIE NEWBIGIN (DECEMBER 8, 1909-JANUARY 30, 1998)

Missionary and Theologian

I refer you, O reader, to the following links:

  1. An interview with Newbigin in 1991 (YouTube),
  2. Newbigin on Nihilism (YouTube),
  3. Paul Weston of Newbigin (YouTube),
  4. John H. Armstrong on Newbigin (YouTube),
  5. An obituary of Newbigin, and
  6. Another obituary of Newbigin.

Newbigin has challenged some of my foundational assumptions.  Our most basic assumptions, an expert on critical thinking has said, are those we do not think of as being assumptions.  We all carry these in our heads, of course, and we find identifying them in others easier than identifying them in ourselves.  Reading Newbigin has helped me to think critically about some of my Enlightenment-based assumptions.  One reason for this reassessment has been our saint’s gentle approach; he did not “raise his voice” on the page.  Friendly persuasion is frequently more effective than shouting.

Newbigin argued for certain propositions, including the following:

  1. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true.
  2. The truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not depend upon any human philosophy.  The Gospel is, in fact, to quote St. Paul the Apostle, “foolishness to the Greeks” (1 Corinthians 1:23).
  3. Religious toleration is part and parcel of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
  4. Certainty cannot exist apart from faith.  Each of us has faith that x, y, and z, are true and that reality functions in a certain way.

He was openly yet gently critical of elements of both liberal and conservative Christianity for seeking some certainty apart from faith.  Both, he said, commit errors rooted in a negative aspect of the Enlightenment.  For the same reason Newbigin was openly and gently critical of Christian apologetics that seek to make the Gospel of Jesus Christ reasonable, according to a human point of view.  To do so, he insisted, is to make a given human philosophy more important than the Gospel itself.  He concluded one book with the following paragraph:

The confidence proper to a Christian is not the confidence of one who claims possession of demonstrable and indubitable knowledge.  It is the confidence of one who has heard and answered the call that comes from the God through whom and for all things were made:  “Follow me.”

Proper Confidence:  Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship (Grand Rapids, MI:  William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1995), page 105

In other words, the Christian’s only proper basis of confidence is Jesus Christ.

Newbigin continues to inform and challenge my theology via his books.  If he is correct that certainty cannot exit apart from faith, what am I to do with Thomistic theology, of which I am fond?  St. Thomas Aquinas assumed that faith and reason were separate and compatible.  But what if they are not separate?  Such thoughts occupy my attention sometimes.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

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Grant, we beseech you, Almighty God, that following the teaching of Lesslie Newbigin,

we may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent,

that we may be counted worthy ever to be numbered among the sheep who hear his voice;

through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Nehemiah 8:1-8 or Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14

Psalm 119:97-104

1 Corinthians 2:6-16

Matthew 13:51-52

–Adapted from The Book of Common Worship (The Church of South India, 1963), page 67

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This is post #1500 of SUNDRY THOUGHTS.

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Feast of Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas (January 28)   15 comments

Royal 19.A.ix,  f. 4. detail

Royal 19.A.ix, f. 4. detail

Above:  Master and Scholars, by Gautier de Metz

Image in the Public Domain

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SAINT ALBERT THE GREAT (CIRCA 1200-NOVEMBER 15, 1280)

Roman Catholic Theologian and Bishop of Ratisbon

His feast transferred from November 15

teacher of

SAINT THOMAS AQUINAS (1225-MARCH 7, 1274)

Roman Catholic Theologian

His feast = January 28

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These two saints, both Doctors of the Church, influenced the course of Roman Catholic theology.

St. Albert the Great, a.k.a. St. Albertus Magnus, born in Lauingen, Bavaria, circa 1200, came from German nobility.  He studied at Bologna and Padua before entering the Dominican Order in 1222.  The the saint studied then lectured in theology in Dominican houses in Germany.  In 1241 St. Albert relocated to Paris, where he began his study of the works of Aristotle.  There, from 1245 to 1248, he was a chair of theology.  In Paris the saint also met and taught St. Thomas Aquinas, allegedly a “dumb ox.”  St. Albert knew better, though.

Aquinas, born at Roccasecca, Italy, in 1225, came from Italian nobility.  When he was five years old his parents sent him to study at the monastery of Monte Cassino; they intended for him to become the abbot there.  At the age of 15 years Aquinas began to study at Naples, where he became interested in joining the Dominican Order.  His family, alarmed by this possibility, kept him under house arrest for 15 months.  Eventually, though, the saint became a Dominican in 1244.  He studied under St. Albert the Great at Paris from 1245 to 1248.  St. Albert introduced Aquinas to the works of Aristotle.

St. Albert’s project, which Aquinas took up also, was the question of the relationship between faith and reason, especially in the context of Aristotelian philosophy.  Both saints considered Christianity and Aristotelian philosophy to be compatible.  Islamic scholars had preserved the works of “the Philosopher,” as Aquinas referred to him, and translated them into Arabic.  The Latin translations of Aristotelian works were not direct translations from Greek; they were translations from Arabic.  Aristotelian philosophy contradicted Platonist philosophy, favored by luminaries such as St. Clement of Alexandria and Origen, who lived about a millennium earlier.  Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas found Aristotelian philosophy helpful regarding Christian doctrine, especially Transubstantiation.  This approach proved controversial during the lifetimes of both saints.

Teacher and pupil moved from Paris to Cologne, where St. Albert founded a new Dominican gymnasium generale, in 1248.  At Cologne the two saints parted company; Aquinas returned to Paris as a lecturer in 1252, and St. Albert began a three-year-long stint as the Provincial of the German province of the Dominican Order the following year.

Aquinas taught and wrote for the rest of his life.  He became a Doctor of Theology in 1256.  Three years later he left to teach in Italy, specifically at Anagni and Orvieto (1259-1265), Rome (1265-1267), and Viterbo (1267-1269).  He spent three years (1269-1272) again, before returning to Naples (1272-1274).  He halted work on the Summa Theologica in December 1273.  Aquinas concluded:

I cannot go on….All that I have written seems to me like so much straw compared to what has been revealed to me.

–Quoted in Robert Ellsberg, All Saints:  Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time (New York, NY:  The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1997), page 50

Aquinas died on March 7, 1274, en route to the Council of Lyons, which St. Albert attended.  The main achievement of that council was the brief union (1274-1289) of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches.

St. Albert was also busy between 1256 and 1274.  For a time he served as a judge in disputes between ecclesiastical and secular parties.  Then, for two or three years, he was the Bishop of Ratisbon; he restored order to the administration of that diocese.  St. Albert resigned that post.  In 1263 and 1264 he preached the Eighth Crusade in Germany.  (I make no excuses for the Crusades, for the concept of warfare as prayer is antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ.)  Finally, St. Albert lived in a series of Dominican houses, the last one being at Cologne, starting in 1269.

The catalog of St. Albert’s writings included treatises and biblical commentaries.  He composed commentaries on the Gospels, Job, and some of the Hebrew prophets.

St. Albert died at Cologne on November 15, 1280.  The Roman Catholic Church dubbed him “the Great” in the 1300s, beatified him in 1622, and canonized him in 1931.

As great as St. Albert was, Aquinas was greater, at least in the estimation of the Roman Catholic Church.  The Dominican Order imposed his teachings on its members in 1278, just four years after he died.  His canonization in 1323 vindicated Aquinas fully.

I am aware of a variety of well-informed positions within Christianity regarding Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas.  I know, for example, that Holy Mother Church embraced Thomistic theology thoroughly for centuries and that Thomism remains a prominent strain within Roman Catholicism.  I also know of the appeal of Thomism, with its respect of the intellect and human reason, for me.  Furthermore, I know that the great Reformed missionary and theologian Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), no intellectual slouch, objected to what he considered a false dichotomy.  According to Newbigin and those who embrace his position, certainty cannot exist apart from faith, so reason cannot exist apart from faith all knowledge depends upon the assumption (via faith) that x, y, and z are accurate.  (I know that this statement applies to Euclidian geometry.)  Perhaps that proposition is correct.  Regardless of the truth of that matter, one should honor Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas for bringing their intellects to matters of faith and for not being afraid of new (to them) knowledge, as their Platonist forebears Sts. Clement of Alexandria and Origen did.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SQUANTO, COMPASSIONATE HUMAN BEING

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Almighty God, you have enriched your Church with singular learning and holiness of your servants

Sts. Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas:

Enlighten us more and more, we pray, by the disciplined thinking and teaching of Christian scholars,

and deepen our devotion by the example of saintly lives;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Wisdom of Solomon 7:7-14

Psalm 119:97-104

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

Matthew 13:47-52

–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 195

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