Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Damascus Way

Tiberius, Jerusalem, Damascus, in the year 40AD.  Saul of Tarsus is hunting down followers of The Way and brutally bringing them to justice.  Julia is the pampered daughter of Jamal, a wealthy merchant, and Jacob is one of his best caravan guards.  Both are couriers of secret messages between the dispersed groups of Christians.  When Saul and his retinue of temple guards join Jamal's caravan to Damascus, Jacob and Julia risk discovery as well as their very lives to warn believers there of the impending danger.

Christian historical fiction just keeps getting better and better.  I really enjoyed The Damascus Way for its portrayal of daily life and business in the first century after Christ.  I also liked the light romance and heavy suspense.  Not only are messages being smuggled, but also frankinscense, a rare and costly spice.  Bandits and Zealots threaten lives and livelihoods.  Then there are the Roman guards who are also secret Christians...and the temptation on the road to Damascus to simply do away with Saul and his threat to their new faith. 

With a guest appearance by the apostle Philip, and his encounter with the eunuch on the road to Gaza (Acts 8:26-39), Bunn and Oke continue to bring the Bible alive, especially the Acts of the Apostles.  A refreshing story, full of adventure and imagination without being morally offensive or degrading to other faiths.

New from Bethany House Publishing, this is the third book in the Acts of Faith series by Davis Bunn and Janette Oke. 

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Sunday There Was No Mass

We live in a very rural area.  We were actually considered a "mission" church for many years before the Diocese restructured all the churches into independent entities.  For a while we didn't even have a priest assigned to us. 

Finally the Bishop decided to combine us with two other "local" churches and assign one priest to all three.  So our parish priest travels over 100 miles every Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist with three different communities.  Not to mention a "daily" Mass once a week, confessions, weddings, baptisms, etc., in each community.

So when a late winter storm struck last week and dropped a foot of snow on us, the middle church, on an early Saturday morning, we knew Father had alot more snow up at his higher altitude.  Snow continued off and on all day, with intermittent thawing, enough to wet the roads for ice overnight.  Sunday morning, the roads were closed due to multiple accidents and there was no route open for him to get to us to say Mass.  Inevitably, that Sunday the church was packed.  There is no deacon in our community, and without dispensation from the Bishop, we could not have a communion service.  We did, however, sing and have the Liturgy of the Word.  We then made a spiritual communion before leaving.

Afterwards, we had a food sale in the hall, and one generous patron made a large donation so that any who could not afford to buy could still eat.  It almost felt like what the early church must have been like.  But it also felt suspiciously Protestant.  Without the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, I left with a longing and a hunger not satisfied.  I also missed the usual rituals.  I love the entire process of the Mass, from the processing in, the readings, the shared profession of faith, offering the gifts, consecration, Holy Communion, and final blessing.  When I was away from the Church, this is what I missed.  Since I have come back, I don't want to be without it.  To receive Jesus, fully, into my body and soul; to have His grace well up inside me and overflow all around me, this I long for.  This I desire most of all.  I continue to pursue it and can never get enough.  I am weak and human, and utterly fallable.  I need His strength to attempt to live fully.

In our area we get this reminder several times a year when Father is sick, or the weather prevents him from coming to say Mass.  How fortunate and grateful we are that we do have a priest to come and say Mass on Sunday, even one extra day a week.  With the shortage of vocations and a culture that despises celibacy, we may someday soon have to drive a great distance to get to Mass.  What a tragedy indeed, if the odd Sunday was the one that we did have Mass.