Sunday, May 19, 2013

I mitre known

Sermon preached at Our Lady of Walsingham and St Francis on Whitsunday 2013.
You may have noticed
         that clergy have a habit
                  of wearing strange hats
- birettas, zucchetti, galeri, saturni,
trenchers, tiaras and mitres.
How many of these have you seen,
or even heard of?
Of these,
the mitre is perhaps the most iconic.

 You'll no doubt have seen
 some splendid examples of these,
especially those worn by recent popes.
As you know,
a mitre is a hat worn only
by a bishop or an abbot,
and so there must be something
about being an abbot or a bishop
which this hat especially signifies.
 What does it look like to you?
Does it remind you of anything?
In the West,
the shape of the mitre
gives the answer quite quickly.
It is meant to represent
the cloven tongues of fire
that descend upon the heads of the apostles
on the day of Pentecost.
This is the coming of the Holy Ghost,
the other Comforter
that Our Lord Jesus has promised us.
He tells the disciples,
"For John truly baptized with water;
but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost
 not many days hence."
God gives to us the gift of Himself again
and each of Jesus's disciples is baptized
in the Holy Ghost.
Of course,
we too have been baptised
in the same way
in water and in the spirit.
You will have noticed
when you were baptised with water,
but when were you baptised in the Holy Ghost?
In the Western Rite,
after we are baptized,
we are anointed with the oil of Chrism
and this is the outward sign of
the Baptism with the Holy Ghost.
Not all of us have been baptised
in the Western Rite
and have actually missed that anointing,
but it isn't a problem.
When we are confirmed,
the grace that we have received at baptism
is strengthened by the Holy Ghost
at the hands of the Bishop.
Certainly by our Confirmation,
we will have been baptized in the Spirit.
If we've all been baptised in the Holy Spirit,
shouldn't we all be wearing mitres?
We have all received
the same baptism as our bishops,
so why is the mitre only for bishops?
On the day of Pentecost,
the effect of that baptism
is quite profound.
The disciples are launched
immediately into action,
speaking in tongues
as the Spirit gives them utterance.
There is noise and kerfuffle
as they speak in different languages
the wonderful works of God
for a cosmopolitan society to hear.
This is something
that we certainly don't expect to see
when we get baptised or confirmed.
But this very activity
is responsible for three thousand people
becoming Christian in a single day!
St Peter's eloquent sermon
speaks to the hearts of thousands
and the result is that that
the Christian Church is born.
It is this that sets the pattern
for the building of the Church.
The Apostles,
those who are closest to Christ Jesus,
receive power of the Holy Ghost
to form the bedrock of the Church.
Into their hands falls
the oversight of the Church
and the building up of the body of Christ.
Indeed, the word Bishop means
"one who has oversight",
but this is only one aspect
of the needs of the Church
which must be met.
These Apostles were chosen by Jesus
specifically to receive
the baptism of the Holy Ghost
and this baptism completes
their ordination as well.
They have been trained for ministry
with the Lord Jesus before His Death;
 they receive the commission for this ministry
 before His Ascension
and they receive the wherewithal
to perform their ministry directly
 from the Holy Ghost.
For those of us
who have not been chosen
to be apostles
or successors to the apostles,
the baptism we have completed
at our Confirmation
enables us to follow our own vocations.
"God hath set some in the church,
first apostles,
secondarily prophets,
thirdly teachers,
after that miracles,
then gifts of healings,
diversities of tongues."
The mitre is only worn by bishops,
 just as the barrister wears his wig,
the queen her crown, mayors their chains,
blacksmiths their aprons,
and railway workers
their bright orange jackets.
In the Eastern Church,
however, the mitre takes on
a different appearance.
It looks more like a crown
decorated with icons  and with a cross on top.
What have crowns to do with the Holy Ghost?
The mitre-crown is a symbol of authority
and we know that Our Lord
gives his apostles authority.
It is an authority
which they do not possess by themselves,
but by God Himself
and, as we read in the Revelation
to St John,
each apostle has to give
that authority back
by casting their crowns
before the One Who sits
upon the Throne.
It is Christ's authority and Christ's crown.
The same is true for us
who are not called to be bishops.
The Holy Spirit gives us the power
to perform the vocation
with which God has created us.
It's not our power,
it is God's and He has every right
to withhold it as He sees fit.
St Paul specifically warns us
that we should grieve not
the Holy Spirit of God,
whereby we are sealed
unto the day of redemption.
To do so
means that we fail
to become who we are meant to be.
With God we become our real selves,
without Him we can do nothing
with any authority.
Only a few of us will wear mitres.
This is a heavy burden to bear
as "for unto whomsoever much is given,
of him shall be much required:
and to whom men have committed much,
of him they will ask the more. "
the burden of our baptism in the Holy Ghost
is no less serious.
How is that baptism affecting your life?

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