ALMIGHTY and everlasting God, who hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all those who are penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Dead Works of Conscience
Apart from the Gospels themselves, the book of the New Testament that I find most enlightening is The Epistle to the Hebrews. One theme from that book that seems appropriate to consider during Lent is that of “the dead works of conscience,” which I believe can mean two different things, the second of which is an important thing for Christians to know.
Regarding the first meaning, consider to whom this epistle was written. It's called The Epistle to the Hebrews because its original intended audience was first century Jews, both those who had become followers of Christ and those who had not. Part of the argument of the author is that the new covenant in Christ's blood is superior to the old covenant with Israel and had thus superseded it. In that context the first and obvious meaning of “the dead works of conscience” is addressed to those Christian Jews who felt lingering guilt over having abandoned some of the practices and disciplines of the old covenant in order to enter into the new one. As anyone familiar with the Book of The Acts of The Apostles and the letters of Saint Paul knows this was a hot issue for the Church in the apostolic period, but it's not really a major concern today for the simple reason that most Christians today are not of Jewish descent.
The second meaning of “the dead works of conscience” is quite another matter. The fact that we say the General Confession at every celebration of the Mass and make provision for hearing private confessions where desired springs from the Church's awareness that we are all sinful people and that our individual awareness of our own past and current transgressions against God's will for us causes us the feelings of guilt and shame that we call our conscience. When those feelings lead us to seek God's forgiveness and His grace to resist future transgressions, that is to our benefit, but to leave the matter there is to overlook a massively important truth: our feelings, including our feelings of guilt, can be significantly flawed.
For as long as we dwell upon this earth we are in all respects, including our consciences, limited and imperfect creatures. The proof that our consciences frequently do not call to our attention some of our misdoings is the fact that we sometimes come to realize that we have erred only long after the error has been committed. We can go weeks or months or years with no feelings of concern about something that, by God's grace, we only later realize was wrong. Well, better late than never, and it is never too late to repent and receive God's forgiveness. But that is not the only harmful effect of the imperfection of our consciences; it can also lead us to feel guilty over things that are not, in fact, sins.
This “dead work of conscience” is an insidious spiritual affliction often found in those who are striving most seriously to practice their Christian faith to their utmost ability. It can make one extremely vulnerable to spiritual despair in the mind and soul as well as leaving one highly prone to emotional manipulation by others who wish to take advantage of an overly tender conscience.
You are probably familiar with the phrase, “examine your conscience.” That's good advice, but it doesn't just mean, Pinocchio's Jiminy Cricket notwithstanding, “always let your conscience be your guide.” It also means that you should test your conscience to see if it is at fault. How to do that? For one thing, ask if your feelings are in line with the Scriptures and the traditional teachings of the Church. If not, why not? For another, it means to recognize two very important facts about our fallen human nature. Firstly, most errors of human will spring one way or another from pride leading us to value our own judgments and desires above all else.
It is relatively easy to see how pride is at work in the cases where our consciences do not alert us to the fact that what we are doing is wrong. We simply trust our own judgment uncritically and do whatever seems desirable to us at that point. What is more difficult to realize is that an overly tender conscience is also the result of pride. It tells us either that we should be able to attain moral perfection by our own efforts or that we are so masterfully and uniquely sinful that we have by our own efforts and power been able to commit sins of such magnitude that God is not powerful enough to forgive them.
God has good news for those have fallen prey to either of these errors of conscience. To those carrying a burden of guilt for past misdeeds committed without the recognition that they were errors, the good news is that God is never unwilling to offer forgiveness of any sins, no matter how grievous or when committed, to those who are repentant. To those who are needlessly troubled by the dead works of an overly tender conscience, the good news is that God's judgment of us is infinitely more important than our own judgment of ourselves, and that He judges us righteous not because we have made ourselves righteous, but because Christ has shared His perfect righteousness with us. This is the source of our hope, our salvation, and our confidence in God's grace and clemency.
Lent, the Church's season to focus on our own sinfulness, is also a time to be grateful for God's unfailing mercy and forgiveness. I urge you to make the most of it.
-- Father Bragg+
Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through
Please click here to help St. Andrew & St. Margaret of Scotland
Tonight (and every Friday during Lent except for Good Friday), 7:00 PM, Stations of the Cross followed by light Lenten Supper
Sunday Services, 7:45 AM, 9:00 AM, & 11:15 AM (for online participation for the services go to: https://www.facebook.com/saintsofscotland/ )
Sunday School, 10:30 AM
Wednesday at Noon – Holy Communion and anointing for healing (for online participation, check info under Sunday Services)
Saturday, March 25, 8:30 AM, Men's Group in the undercroft with breakfast by Chef Claude Crump and Bible Study with Bob Boyd. Food, fellowship and Bible study with other men of the parish.
Monday, March 27, 7:30 PM, Vestry Meeting, undercroft
Please help this month with a food donation if you are able. Christ House is very thankful for the food we provide to them each month. Please also buy low sugar cereals (and not the kid's types that have lots of sugar). Current needs include the following:
• canned meats (chicken, corned beef, spam)
• peanut butter
• canned vegetables (corn, green beans - (regular and low sodium)
• individual fruit cups (low sugar)
• canned fruit (low sugar)
• cereal (low sugar)
• pasta (regular and gluten-free)
• instant potatoes
• Macaroni & cheese kits
• Coffee, cooking oil, flour, sugar
Recently Updated List of Needs for MaRIH Center (crisis pregnancy center)
MaRIH Center with its all volunteer staff has been providing help to mothers-to-be and mothers in need. If you can provide some of the items that are needed, please do so. (You can leave the donations where the food for the food bank is collected on the pew in the undercorft.)
Baby wipes* (an ongoing great need)
Diapers (sizes 1*, 2, 3*, 4, 5*, & 6*)
Diaper rash ointment*
Spring/Summer clothing for 0-3 months and 2T*
(Bold and * are a critical need.)
Sleep Sacks: Girls 0-6 mos.
Socks: Boy/Girl 2T
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