25 March 2017

Holy Things for the Holy


At RCIA we discussed sex and sexuality.  What an interesting thing, in the context of (Adult and Teen) confirmation class, to have an entire session devoted to sex. I say interesting because I think in 12 years I've heard the topic come up only a couple of times, and never as the main topic of teaching. It was certainly never touched on in adult classes. Archbishop Benjamin once mentioned marriage in a sermon that was on the topic of "we will never change our teaching" but without talking about what that teaching actually was.

Anyway: Father started with Does the Church say sex is good or bad? Uncomfortable laughing. No really, he asked again. Finally getting a few answers, he said that the Church teaches sex is holy, a Divine gift. From the beginning of the human story the first commandment is to participate in God's bringing forth life. My brain wafted off on a meditation then. The issue is not sin or evil sex, then, but rather the constant essay at desacralizing sex. We just want it to be fun, useful, no more nor no less what we want it to be. It's taking the leavened Lamb of the Byzantine Liturgy, after the anaphora, and slicing it up, serving it with butter, lemon curd, and tea.

Amusingly: there are those Christians who would do that to the communion bread. They also don't think sex should be held that way either. This is the real issue. We live in a world that tries to define Sacred beyond its properly described boundaries. That is the only issue around sex.

But it is not the only place this same issue comes up.

I had a conversation once with my housemate in Astoria, NY. We were walking home from "the bars" at 4:30 or 5:00 AM on a Saturday. We were talking about a song that was running through my head from a TV show I'd seen once in childhood. I couldn't remember the rest of the show - and he couldn't place it from the fragment I had in my head (it's in the video below). But I pointed out to him that it came up whenever something was "impossible" but I knew it wasn't. I took it as a sign that things would be ok. He looked me square in the face and said,"There has to be something in your life that doesn't mean something else." In fact, there is nothing of the sort. Nor, until recently, did I know that this was the case for anyone. I just assumed that for most of us the issues was disagreeing about what things meant.  Evidently, for some folks sex (and other things) only mean the thing itself.

I have no idea how that could even be.



24 March 2017

Liturgical Doodles


I'm given to understand that "back in the day" there were no "Vigil Masses" on Saturday Night and that proper piety in the West (as in the East) involved attending Saturday Vespers where one might also make confession. I've no idea if this "day" was 100 years ago or 1,000, but Saturday Vespers leading into Sunday seem a good thing.

I know also from my Anglo-Catholic days that at one time (up until the mid 20th Century) Sunday also included a parochial Sung Vespers (Evensong) service together with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament.  The snarky queens in Seminary would call it Evenscreach and Cookie Worship before going out to serve the pious of whom they made such fun.

The Slavic Orthodox tradition serves something called "the All-Night Vigil" on Saturdays. Although it is usually only 2.5 hours long at the fullest, it can be made torturously into nearly eight hours of worship. Liturgically, though, it is "all night" in that it is Vespers and Compline of the previous evening, together with Matins and the first hour (Prime) of Sunday. So leaving Church at some late evening point on Saturday, it is already Sunday at Dawn, in liturgical time, anyway.  This is not done in other Orthodox traditions, perhaps because the long Russian Winter Nights required the whole parish to pray together for warmth.

Read as a package, all of these events from the Slavic Vigil service to the Anglo-Catholic Benediction, with Sunday mass in the middle, of course, can be seen to be ways of "extending the Sabbath", of letting the weekly Feast of the Resurrection be longer than just one midmorning Communion service. This is, it seems to me, a laudable practice. Yet if one were to try to attempt sch a thing in a modern, Novus Ordo parish there would be a mass on Saturday night, and probably two more on Sunday afternoon and evening that would get in the way. Vigil Masses and multiple Sunday Masses are pastoral necessities, dictated by the cruise-ship size of many parishes as well as the work schedules of many people for whom 9-5 M-F is a middle class, mostly White, largely Suburban possibility. What follows, therefore, is only a doodle, a sort of Fantastic Liturgical Voyage, using the tools available to a parish of a certain size, in a way that would be fully within the Western, Catholic tradition and using it to the fullest.

Saturday Evening: A seemless wedding of Vespers with the Office of Readings, including the Vigil Canticles, Resurrection Gospel, and the Te Deum.

This is done by moving the intercessions from the end of Vespers to the end of the Office of Readings.

The Psalms and Canticles could be chanted by the congregation and the choir, or else a little of both: with the choir doing fancy versions, whilst the Congregation sticks to antiphonal chanting and/or reading. There are hymns appointed, although there are many available. Using the Psalm Prayers and adding a Homily would make this a fuller experience, as would laying on of incense at the Magnificat and at the Te Deum. Venite optional...

Early Low Mass on Sunday w/Morning Prayer.
This is currently done at my Dominican Parish on Saturday. The Psalms of Saturday Morning Prayer are chanted before the Penitential Rites, with the Benedictus sung as a post communion. This could be done as easily on Sunday.

Pull out all the stops for High Mass on Sunday.

Then, Sunday evening, once again with the Psalms, serve Evening Prayer and Benediction, followed by Sunday Compline. Incense at the Magnificat, at Benediction, and at the Nunc Dimitiis in Compline.  Again, take the intercessions from the end of Vespers and add them to the end of Compline.  If needed a Homily or reflection could be done after the Benediction.

I would, fantastically, add shared parochial meals before the evening services and after the High Mass.  This also comes from Byzantine practice, and as a community building tool it cannot be underestimated. Let the men's club do Sunday night, the Women's club Saturday, with the Youth doing a perpetual Pancake brunch on Sunday.

Again, just dreaming.  But if you got a Liturgy of the Hours book handy, you can see what all it could be.

23 March 2017

Fer'im R Agin'im?



Today's readings:

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.
Qui non est mecum, contra me est: et qui non colligit mecum, dispergit.
Luke 11:23

This verse is often contrasted with Luke 9:50, which seems to say the reverse:

Whoever is not against you is for you.
Qui enim non est adversum vos, pro vobis est.
Luke 9:50 (or Mark 9:40)

I used to wrestle with this, but it seems to me tonight to be two parts of the same teaching - not two contradictory statements.  Jesus never says "Whoever is not against me is for me."  He says, about himself, whoever is not with me is against me. It's notable that he's speaking of Satan in this passage as "not with me".  But he's speaking of the Church in "Whoever is not against you" (which pronoun is plural and so should be translated "against all y'all").

What this means to my eyes is that we cannot call Christians those who hold only lukewarm ideas of Christ: if they are not with him, they are against him. But the Church can call these same people friends or Ecclesial Communities, if they don't hinder us in our evangelism. They can work with the Church in our outreach, our social ministry. But we cannot afford to confuse common, if you will, political goals, with our God-revealed telos or right-ending.  The purpose of our actions must always be ad astra, or to the stars. The purpose of our politics is not earthly: the Church does nothing that cannot be for the salvation of others.

Jesus, being God, reveals the telos, the end point of all creation in time. Jesus, being man, reveals the telos of human nature in divinity. Whoever is not with him - fully, wholeheartedly,  committedly - is against him. If you're not willing to give all and die, go home.  By the same token, if you're willing to put up with us, with our insanity, with our prolife marches, our teachings on sex, our insistence that there is one right way upwards, then come to the party! Even if you think we're making all the stuff up, you're welcome. But if you just want us to pretend to be a social organization, a political club, or some kind of fancy-dress cheerleading squad for your partisan politics, we will have to decline.

21 March 2017

70x7=Eternity

From CatholicLink
Today Readings:


Jesus answered, "I say to you, not seven times but seventy-seven times.
Dicit illi Jesus: Non dico tibi usque septies: sed usque septuagies septies.
Matthew 18:22

Forgiveness is one of the seven Spiritual Works of Mercy. The full list is at the end of the posting. I don't find these easier (or more difficult) than the Corporal (Bodily) Works of Mercy (also listed at the end of the post). I think because I'm not very merciful, all of these things are hard for me except praying for the dead, although I think that's more my own superstition than my own act of mercy.

At Church we've been meditating on these words of Mercy for a while. They were doing the Corporal one in the Fall of last year - wrapping up just as I got by to SF. We started on the Spiritual works at the end of January and I've been participating in a small group discussing these every Monday morning. By "coincidence" we began discussing forgiveness this week.

This is fresh and so four stories come to mind:

Three of bullies in school (one in grade school, two in high school) and of my wonky journey trying to find a vocation in God's Church. These stories come up because I can tell them as if they happened yesterday, and as if someone actually set out to cause me harm.

That was what came to me yesterday morning, meditation with my group: it's rather easy to forgive if you realize most things that hurt you are not done to you, personally. The driver who made stupid errors on the highway as you were leaving work tonight did not set out to ruin your day, to cause you damage. Even the bullies only failed because they objectify their victims: they are not hurting persons, they are hurting objects.

There are, I'm sure, people who hurt people knowingly and willingly, although I cannot mention them without invoking Godwin's law. But even these people failed to see their victims as people.

Forgiveness comes when we see the other as person.

When that servant had left, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a much smaller amount. He seized him and started to choke him, demanding, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
Egressus autem servus ille invenit unum de conservis suis, qui debebat ei centum denarios: et tenens suffocavit eum, dicens: Redde quod debes.
Matthew 18:28

But the other thing that gives rise to forgiveness is awareness of our own sinfulness, of our own weakness. Knowing how much one has sinned helps in letting go of the sins of others. That is, after all, the name of the game, is it not: forgive my sins as I forgive others. forget all the things I've done in exactly the same way I forget all the things done to me.

In that light, I'm in so much trouble! See: I may never have been personally harmed. But grudges are personal. I'm embarrassed to say I know the names of bullies. I look them up from time to time on Facebook to see how messy their lives are. (As if mine wasn't also messy.) It is our pride - our wounded worldly pride - that hold on to these moments.

But what about other moments? The forgiveness of people who only indirectly harmed one (and again, not personally) may be even harder. I lost a job once to an embezzlement, the thief didn't set out to steal my job, as such, but she did - and the jobs of many of my friends.  Her story can make me feel I need a few belts of whiskey. What about your "political enemies"? Do they even know you - you, personally - exist? Do they know that their actions are hurting you? Do you imagine they sit up at night and say, "How shall I hurt her tomorrow?" Can you forgive them anyway?

Here, too, it is our wounded pride that holds on to these things. Here, too, it is our humility, and our desire to emulate Jesus that will save us.

These questions are not terribly important in a world where one has power. One can forget to forgive in a world where one comes home at night and comfortably rests in a high-backed arm chair watching drivel on Netflix.  But how important to our salvation would it be to forgive those who take away our tax exempt status because of our teachings on sex? How important is it for us to pray here and now for the forgiveness of those who - not knowing any of us personally - would still lead us off into concentration camps or unemployment, or worse.

Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.

I said at group on Monday that we need to come to a place where our forgiveness of our enemies is a massive evangelism. "Off with her head!" 'I forgive you.' "Off with his head!" 'I forgive you.', "Off with their heads!" 'I forgive you.' Seventy times Seven we must do that or, at least, one more time beyond our own head on the block.

If we don't get there, we may all be doomed - along with those we damn by our lack of living the Gospel.

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

  • To instruct the ignorant.
  • To counsel the doubtful.
  • To admonish sinners.
  • To bear patiently those who wrong us.
  • To forgive offenses.
  • To console the afflicted.
  • To pray for the living and the dead.

The Corporal Works of Mercy

  • To feed the hungry.
  • To give water to the thirsty.
  • To clothe the naked.
  • To shelter the homeless.
  • To visit the sick.
  • To visit the imprisoned, or ransom the captive.
  • To bury the dead.


20 March 2017

Work? What Work?


Today's Readings:


Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary your wife into your home. 
Joseph, fili David, noli timere accipere Mariam conjugem tuam.
Matthew 1:20

You'll admit that Joseph was brave.
What would people say?
And goodness knows that Jesus would never look like him.
Genetics just don't work that way.
But God does.

Is it conceivable, pardon the pun, that God would craft it so that Jesus looks like Joseph's son, so that he blends in with the sons and daughters of Joseph? Why would you say no to that? Why would God say no to that?The (otherwise excellent) TV show, "Jesus of Nazareth" has a blond boy child being raised by to really rather Jewish looking parents. No, I think not: standing out like that makes no sense at all. I bet God would fix it.

Jesus was also left by his Father under this man's tutelage. Jesus was God in the Flesh, knowing all things and having all wisdom, but his flesh went through all the stages of development you and I - and all humans - did. His brain was void and formless, and although he may have had that eternal connection to God the Father always present, it was the schooling of Joseph that gave it shape, that taught it words, that gave sense to "Father". Joseph was "Daddy" (Abba) to the unschooled, developing brain of Jesus.

And so this man, Joseph the Just, Joseph the Most Chaste, Joseph the most loyal, the most devoted, the most patient, the most faithful: this man shows Jesus, first, what "God the Father" really means.

This man is the Patron and Protector of the Universal Church, why? because the Church is the Body of Christ, brought forth from the womb of the Virgin Mary, but fed, housed, clothed, protected, educated, and trained up in manhood by this man, this mortal.

It is a lame joke to point out that between Jesus the Son of God and Mary, the most Immaculate Virgin, if something was wrong in that house it was Joseph's fault. But he was there, and he still prays for us.

Since leaving the Monastery, I've discovered a great devotion to this man, not least in my work, itself. Joseph is, to me, the model of devoting my work to God: because as he did his work, manfully, devotedly, fully, so he was protecting God, himself, on earth. Carpentry is not sacred, per se, but Joseph made his carpentry a sacrifice to God.

And so how can we do the same?

I wrestle with this because I don't work. In fact, no one I know works except a few friends in Buffalo. Work means labor, moving stuff. Work is measured best in "Horsepower": how many horses moving how much weight in how much time? That's not typing, writing, or, let's be honest, moving papers. Most of us reading this would be lost if we had to lift stuff.

Jesus "hired" fishermen and he told them they'd be "fishers of men". Paul was a tentmaker up until he got arrested. The only people Jesus ever freed from their work (to do better things) were people who didn't do actual work: tax collectors, rabbis, and prostitutes. I think this is important. What work would I be doing if I actually had to, you know, work? Even St Benedict had his entirely contemplative monks do work. The motto of his order is, after all, Ora et Labora: "Prayer and work".  Can a Christian who doesn't work (ie, do actual manual labor) be devoting his work to his salvation and the salvation of the world? How?

19 March 2017

Her Englightenment


Today's readings:


Jesus said to her, "I am he, the one speaking with you."
Dicit ei Jesus: Ego sum, qui loquor te.
John 4:26

You'll be happy to know this never happened.  Well, something like this may have happened, you know; but this, this event, never happened. Jesus never made any claims about his messiah-ness or his divinity.  So this talk where Jesus seems to "magically" know what this woman was doing and where he uses the Divine Name ("I AM") and claims to be the Messiah of Israel - this never happened.

It was learning that this never happened, sitting in a sermon (and later a Bible Class) in an Episcopal Church that made me lose my faith and leave the church for good.

Leave, that is, a group that claimed that this never happened. I gave up my faith in those who try to be Christians by denying Christ. The whole "Jesus never XYZ" crap.

I left all the shystery, shenanigans, and shell games (and bullshit) that deny not only 2000 years of Christian teachings but also denies the 4000 years of Jewish prophecies fulfilled by those teachings as well as millennia of human expectations those prophecies manifests.

I lost my faith. But found the Faith At the same time, but by a much slower process, I began to realize that it was not just my faith I need to lose.  For our modern, liberal shell game can confirm us in a lot of shit, too. We have to get rid of that...

This woman standing at the well seems to know a lot about Jesus. Have you noticed that? She, too, is a Biblical Scholar: not of the sort that denies the Bible, but of the sort that reads it in faith. She sits down at night and worries about her five husbands and the one that's not her husband. Even as she lays down next to the latter and says her prayers.

What would I do, she wonders, if Messiah were to come?

These are the thoughts she has even as she goes to the well in the noonday sun alone, not at early morning when all the neighbor ladies go together: she can't take their hypocritical gossip and snark. It strikes too close to home, first off; and secondly they've known her all her life.

The first husband was Dad's fault. She should never have been betrothed when she was eight, but Dad wanted the property next door. The boy didn't love her, and, truth be told, it would have been stupid for him to say otherwise. No one in town was surprised when he put her away and found someone his own age.

The second husband was love. He loved her and she loved him. And he loved her despite the lies her first husband had to to utter to get out of the marriage. She loved him all the more for that love that made her feel clean again, and like dancing in the spring. And when the Roman Army drafted him off to some "troubles" in Egypt she wept and waited... and would still be waiting, to be honest, if he hadn't gotten her pregnant. And raising a young child alone, even on Dad's income from the property... this wasn't happening in that town. And after five years of no word, the Rabbi let her get married again. To someone who wanted the property and loved her as much as the first one did.

But he did love the daughter. A little too much as it happened. And she put him away and had to give up her property at the same time.

The Rabbi arranged the fourth one: a widower and her. It made perfect sense, and while it wasn't love, it was firm. He had two grown sons - who did not begrudge his new wife caring for their aging father so they didn't have to. And when he died, she mourned truly. Her daughter finally had an dowry, and she, too, was safe. And when her daughter's husband moved into the house, they built her a cottage with a garden. It was a family, finally.

And then this young man showed up.  And things happened, and the family smiled because she was happy, but he was a gentile drifter, and he would come and go. But he always came back. And so... People talked - because they knew. And she didn't care, really... but they could talk painfully in her presence, and they didn't know, with their normal life story, that sometimes, life can suck.

And yet, here was a man claiming to be what? A prophet? No, the messiah? No, God! This man was using the Divine Name... and standing right in front of me and if you couldn't feel the Love standing right there you were dead... no, she finally decided, even if one were dead you'd feel the Love.

And then a new affair began: but this was forever Love. And he loved her around all the corners, not despite the the mess, but through it. She realized that love - real love - was what everyone was looking for. Some human relationships mirror that quest better than others, but all of them are attempts at it. Here, however was real love that demanded all her relationships line up with it. Here was love that wouldn't let her settle for just earthly happiness - even the good stuff. And certainly not the bad stuff. Here was Love that wanted to lift her out of mere living into Life.

If you go to a church of the Enlightened Sort where this never happened, you should count your lucky stars.

They're all you've got.

18 March 2017

Order of Christ Crucified

In Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World, which will I most heartily recommend without reservation to all who come into these presents, the protagonist, Fr Percy, suggests to the Pope a new religious order:
A new Order, Holiness—no habit or badge—subject to your Holiness only—freer than Jesuits, poorer than Franciscans, more mortified than Carthusians: men and women alike—the three vows with the intention of martyrdom; the Pantheon for their Church; each bishop responsible for their sustenance; a lieutenant in each country…. (Holiness, it is the thought of a fool.) … And Christ Crucified for their patron.
At a crucial point in the book, the Pope agrees and makes a public proclamation which follows below. But I think we've come to a point where such a thing might be needed. I don't think these are like the Navy Seals as some do - for the Pope (in the book) ends up making the boundaries of the Order coterminous with the boundaries of the Church. This is simply what being a Christian means. 

It's important for another reason, however, and I will offer more on this later, but in this day and age there are those who claiming to be Christians who preach two other religions greatly at variance with the Gospel we've been given, by which to bring the world to God's Kingdom.

On the one hand, of course, are those who teach the World doesn't need saving. God's big and loving and fuzzy enough that it doesn't really matter what you do. God will welcome you as you are and won't bother about anything you do - you don't even have to believe in him, or in anything really. And since you're here, it's good enough for me. Yay! Let's sing Kumbaya! It might be said that these folks won't die for Christ, but we will never know for their Christ won't ask for it. He's quite happy leaving everyone where they are, sleeping or not, dancing or not, sexing or not, serving the poor, or not. A different way of saying "the World doesn't need saving" is "the World is already saved, let's just fix it." Their love of the world keeps them from preaching the Gospel.

On the other hand is a far more subtle - and thus far more dangerous heresy: this one says the world can't be saved. This one would have the Gospel hidden away in order to save the Gospel. This one says, in effect, that God's promises to save the Church from the Gates of Hell itself are not valid. It can also be said that these folks won't die for Christ, but they will deny that. It is not because their Christ won't ask for it: they just want to run as far away from danger as possible so that they might have some semblance of normalcy. This last being the one thing Christ never promised us. Their fear of the world keeps them from preaching the Gospel.