Tuesday, May 24, 2016

This is the Lord's Doing

"This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes." Psalm 118:23

As many of you know, I say the 12:10 Mass every Monday in St. Andrew's Chapel at St. James Cathedral in downtown Chicago. I always begin by welcoming everyone grandly to the Cathedral Church of St. James in the City and Diocese of Chicago. The space is small, but that doesn't mean the welcome should be! The cathedral is just a couple blocks away from Michigan Avenue, the major tourist destination known as the Magnificent Mile. We often get visitors who are in town for sightseeing and business meetings, as well as folks from the neighborhood. It is a mixture of tourists wandering in from the street to see the building's architecture, homeless people looking for a refuge from the danger of the streets, and people searching for a quick lunchtime Mass. Attendance at Mass is never high, and usually ranges from 3 to 6, including me. But I'm glad the cathedral is there to offer sanctuary--in whatever form people are seeking it. For many, it may be their only experience of the Episcopal Church, so despite the modest attendance, the stakes are still high.

Most are not Episcopalians, which has taught me to be more mindful of leading worshipers through the service. The team that revised the Book of Common Prayer did not assume a largely uninitiated crowd when the rubrics and stage directions were crafted, and so I've had to make up my own, lest a deafening silence greet me at the places specified for the people to respond. At the Dean's encouragement, I always preach a short homily on the feast or readings of the day. For the most part, I preach extemporaneously, because I think it's good practice for a priest to offer a word of life without rehearsing.  After all, many of the pastoral situations in which we find ourselves require us to offer something useful on the spot--theology, a prayer, a verse of Scripture, an anecdote. Preaching off the cuff is not a skill that comes naturally to me, so I value the opportunity to practice. I am getting better. There are some days when I think, "now, what the heck was that about, Ethan?" This week's homily was pretty darn good, last week's less good.

AND YET ... we must never discount the role of the Holy Spirit in liturgy. This week, I was approached by a woman who had been at Mass the previous Monday, the day after the Feast of Pentecost. She told me how much my sermon that week had helped her. I had preached on the verse from Psalm 118, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes," and my words had resonated in light of her experience as a person living with a chronic disease. I don't know exactly what I had said, but I do remember preaching that it is hard for us to trust that God is acting and shaping us in moments of adversity. I also recall being underwhelmed by my performance at the time. So, I was grateful that the Holy Spirit had been present with us that day, compensating for any of my self-perceived deficiencies and making the Word something living and nourishing for her. After she had shared this with me, we prayed together for her healing, and I was reminded that none of us ever knows how the Holy Spirit will use us.

Alleluia, the Spirit of the Lord filleth the world: O come, let us adore him. Alleluia.

Abundant blessings,
Fr. Ethan+


  1. In re homilies: "Behold a sower ..." "God gives the increase." Thanks for a wonderful blog "homily" ~ Your inspiring 'gift' to me on the 41st anniversary of my ordination as Priest! Blessings & fraternal fond best wishes: Fr. D. Joe Dunlap

  2. Thank you for your blog and your work as a priest. You are my introduction to the Episcopal church.