It’s off a wobbly boat, a taxi grab to the hotel then a short, rainy walk to Immaculate Conception Jesuit Church, New Orleans for the 11:00am service. Like other older Catholic churches I’ve sat in there is no shortage of stained glass windows depicting scenes from the Bible. In some churches these have focused on Old Testament stories such as Noah and the ark, the In The Beginning, or The Exodus. Immaculate’s windows displayed The New Testament’s The Stations of The Cross, the path Jesus took from His condemnation to, ultimately, His being laid in the tomb. There’s never a window that isn’t beautiful to stare at but sometimes hard to decipher because of Catholic interpretation imbedded in it. In this church there are also many tall columns, sculptures of angels, sculpted versions of the Gospel writers and, of course, Mary and Jesus.
The service starts before I ever realize it with the carrying of the Cross before the hoisted gilded Bible up the center aisle from the rear of the sanctuary. There isn’t much of an order of worship which is printed on out on the front of the program. It lists the week’s readings ( Isaiah 11:1-10; Romans 15:4-9; Matthew 3:1-12). It listed three hymns – O Come, O Come Emmanueal; People, Look East; and On Jordan’s Bank. It also had the service’s Psalm response, “Justice shall flourish in His time and fullness of peace forever”, what Susan was searching for in the hymnal until the last response then noticed on the program.
The message, maybe ten minutes long, covered the topic of repentance. The Father drew points from all three readings but focused mostly on the Gospel, which includes one of my favorite Scripture: vss 7-10
But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
Just once in my life I want to use the phrase “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath?”. I don’t really see it happening. Me, I’m no Jean-Baptiste and do not warrant quoting the prophet who brought the end of God’s 400 years of silence.
The Father said that we are all responsible to help our sisters and brothers understand why repentance is important. He mentioned two types of repentance, action and heart. It’s not enough to just stop beating on, swearing on, and slandering on our neighbors. We are capable of halting violence but never for long because restless hearts just can’t sit still. An unrepentant heart doesn’t know another way until Jesus shows it the better way. I don’t think it’s as easy it sounds. The profane world constantly monitors Christians to see how we are behaving, demanding behaviors of The Church they won’t make of other groups. While we do our best to obey our Lord we frequently fail and are called out for it, and rightly so. But the profane world thinks behaviors can be held ad infinitum. Proverbs 3:5-6 teaches us to Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.
The times we explain ‘heart repentance’ is usually when we get a lot of blowback from the world. We might be accused of ‘pushing religion down their throats’, or we might be told that ‘your God is good for you but I believe in other ways’. And who wants to put up with that? Many of us just sort of give up and hope we don’t have to witness again. While I would never urge you to quit witnessing, I think it is OK to spend some of that ‘licking your wounds’ time praying for ‘more workers in the field’ and while you’re at it, keep praying for help from The Holy Ghost, who is doing the work in the other person’s heart. The ‘Jesus’ in your smile, eyes and heart is the reason a lost soul is interested in you.
As usual, the Catholic church pulled their old trick of sifting out the non-Catholics by starting The Lord’s Prayer then cutting out after saying ‘and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil’ leaving the rest of us muttering the doxology, ‘For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen’. We usually peter out at ‘the kingdom’ rarely ever getting to ‘and the glory’.
Communion was offered but Susan and I sat it out, not refusing for theological reasons per sé but ‘just cuz’. It went quickly and soon after we were singing the processional and after that walking back out into the misty outdoors. Worshipping The Lord is always a good thing.