27 April 2017

Iesu, Iesu, Iesu, esto mihi Iesu.


Today's Readings:
Obedire oportet Deo magis quam hominibus.
We must obey God rather than men. 
Acts 5:29b

First off I suck at this. I try to get better. But I suck at it.

This is my brief meditation today: The Martyrs of England are a better model for us today than any other category of martyr, saint, or blessed. Why? Because their killers thought they were being Christian. I don't think we have to worry about the Gov't ending all Churches. I'm not worried about the army showing up (yet, anyway) at the door of my Church and saying "we're here to shoot your priest."


But, in England, a group of people bought into the Political Fads of the day and also bought into new moralities, new cultural forms, and new religions. Then they killed off all the ones that disagreed. The nominalists did, that is, killing off the Catholics. Killing may be out of the question for the time being. But, face it, a long, slow, painful defeat is much harder to withstand. Anyone can be a martyr if they will but kill you fast enough.

The Martyrs of England followed the law of the land until they could not follow it any more. Most of them died praying for their Queen and her salvation. And she was still their Queen. But they also had a higher calling, one that couldn't cave into current fads or moralities even though thos fads had the political upper hand. They said their Mass in secret, but they didn't hide away, going about their daily lives, keeping the faith alive in a land and time full of hate. And they obeyed the law of God rather than of men (or of a woman, in this case).

That's it. My #PaschaOption for today: a devotion to the Martyrs of England.





26 April 2017

Tikkun Olam.


Today's Readings:

For God sent not his Son into the world, to judge the world, but that the world may be saved by him. He that believeth in him is not judged. But he that doth not believe, is already judged: because he believeth not in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
John 3:17-18 (Douay)

This sounds like Jesus is speaking riddles, doesn't it? Or even contradicting himself within a few words: God didn't send Jesus into the world to Judge, but if you reject Jesus you're already judged. There is subtle world play going on in the Greek as well - so don't worry. Set that over there and we'll get back to it.

We know the world is broken. If you don't think the world is broken, step away from the computer: you're not going to get much out of this posting. But if you do think it's broken - or, maybe, even a just a bit too messy, read on. You don't have to be a Christian, or religious, or even a theist to see this. The world is broken. There are wars and greed and violence, injustice, evil everywhere. I don't really care what your theological point on this might be, all we need to do is admit the brokenness. 

To Christians, this is sin and it is evidence of humanity's participation in sin that - seemingly - no matter what we do to try and fix it, we mess it up more. Gypsy moths and kudzu are both wonderful examples of this: we brought Kudzu to the USA from Japan to keep soil in place during a severe drought in the early 20th Century. Now - it covers the South better than veils cover a bride. We accidentally brought it to a place where it had no predators (bugs and animals) nor were Americans ready to start eating it as they do in Japan; and it came to a perfect temperature/humidity for growth. Boom. Kudzu everywhere. We did the same thing to Gypsy moths: bringing them here to cross-breed with our native silk producers in the 19th Century, but they escaped... and boom. They eat everything now. (I remember walking through the forest once, in High School. All you could hear was the munching of leaves - a very spooky sound!) In Byzantine piety (Catholic and Orthodox) there are prayers that we say asking God to forgive us our sins "voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance."  It's important to realize: just being here, doing something... things happen.

The world is broken. This is where the word play comes in! You'll need to know two Greek words. Forgive the lesson: 
  • κρίνω (krino) "to judge" or "to divide". You krino the chaff from the grain.
  • σῴζω (sozo) "to save" or "to make whole". Jesus always says "your faith has made you whole" which equally means "your faith has saved you".
Now, our verse might make a little more sense if we parse the scary words like this:

For God sent not his Son into the world, to break the world apart, but that the world may be made whole by him... He that doth not believe, is already broken apart...

What it means is "If you're not working with Jesus for the Healing of the World, you're participating in the breaking apart of it. You're already on the wrong side of the equation. Jesus doesn't have to condemn you - to cut you off. You've already done so to yourself."

There is, really, several more layers of theology there to go though (indeed, in Hebrew, Jesus' name is the same as the Greek Sozo: healer, whole-maker, savior). To be broken most apart is eternal hell. Yet this is enough for now: to know that God sent not his son into the world to condemn the world (break it apart) but that the world through him by be saved (made whole).

This is the #PaschaOption for us today then: to participate in that healing. I know that there are reasons to worry about the state of the world. But I am not convinced we can run away. There are those who don't want to hear about Jesus. There are those who don't want to know about sexual morality, about economic justice, about welcoming the stranger, but the Church needs to be out there doing it anyway. There are those who feel threatened by pro life activities like food distribution, opposing unjust war, ending the death penalty, ending abortion - but the Church must do it anyway. She cannot, however, do it by force - and that includes enacting laws. She must do it like Jesus: by sozo. Indeed, that's how she did it in the Roman Empire. It was our way of life that won the day. "See how these Christians love one another."

What can you do to live the #PaschaOption? There is a tradition among all denominations of Judaism called "Tikkun Olam" - the repair of the world. I was surprised to find it the subject of a Children's song - from Sesame Street no less! It well makes the point: any act of mercy, of kindness, of love is a participation in that process of healing. Again, I'll not bet on universalism - a wager I'd lose because of free will - but I will wager on this quote from Robert Kennedy: 
"Give me a place to stand," said Archimedes, "and I will move the world." These men moved the world, and so can we all. Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation. Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers are making a difference in isolated villages and city slums in dozens of countries. Thousands of unknown men and women in Europe resisted the occupation of the Nazis and many died, but all added to the ultimate strength and freedom of their countries. It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
        "If Athens shall appear great to you," said Pericles, "consider then that her glories were purchased by valiant men, and by men who learned their duty." That is the source of all greatness in all societies, and it is the key to progress in our time.
I don't think we can (or should) try to "rebuild Christendom". But I will settle for taking that moment of the Mass when heaven strikes earth and God is here, now, and bringing it with me to work. If we each did that, just once, for each Mass, once for each Divine Liturgy, one point of Sozo in the midst of all the krino, by God's grace we could change everything.



25 April 2017

Resist!


Today's Readings:


Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith.
1 Peter 5:8

These words are the opening of Benedictine Compline (and the traditional Roman Compline), an office I sang for a long time before entering the Monastery using the English text in the Monastic Diurnal from Lancelot Andrewes Press. In the Latin in the video below, it's the brief chant right after the loud "Amen!"

Fratres : Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte : quia adversárius vester diábolus tamquam leo rúgiens círcuit, qućrens quem dévoret : cui resístite fortes in fide.  Tu autem, Dómine, miserére nobis.
R.  Deo grátias. 

It's so important to be both sober and vigilant! What the Latin does in four word, Sóbrii estóte, et vigiláte, the Greek does in two: Νήψατε γρηγορήσατε.  The first word, "nepsate", caries with it the general idea of "don't be drunk" but, in the context of hellenic thinking, that "drunkenness" can come from the passions, from the weaknesses and faults that we carry in our very being. A glutton who will eat anything is the last person you want to ask about tasty food. A drunkard is the last person to recommend a tasty liqueur. A sinner will be full of ideas about how to keep sinning - but not about stopping. When the first papal encyclical letter says "Be Sober" what it means is, "be untainted by the world, the flesh, and the devil." And that last is so important: because he is a person, and crafty. He can use the other two against you.

Once we are sober (detached from our sinful pleasures and desires), then and only then are we ready to begin our night watch. I think of how many times drunkenness has lead to sin on my part, but even exhaustion, "letting my guard down". It's such a commonplace that it can be shorthanded in scripts: an imagine of a couple walking into a bar... and then waking up together the next day. A few empty beer cans on the beach, and a pile of clothes. We all know what it means... most of us have been there now.

One of the things I found so very interesting coming into the Catholic Church is the idea of the "well-formed conscience": one that is trained up in the mind of the church. This idea is found in Orthodoxy too, but it often comes attached to some spookiness. This is the sober and watchful mind. This is the brain that is alert to the wiles of him who like "roaring lion walketh about seeking whom he may devour." And we are counselled to "resist, steadfast in the faith."

We have our own lion: St Mark, whose feast is today, and he will intercede for us.  His is the shortest Gospel, and the easiest to navigate. He is known as the abridger of St Matthew - often times telling the same story, sometimes with the very same words - but in a shorter, more succinct mode. I've been told that St Mark more often uses the word "immediately."  As in "When that had happened, immediately this other thing happened." St Mark is a good Gospel to keep on hand for reading spurts (like standing in line at the bank or riding the train to work). It does well in short chunks, easy to digest: unlike St John's Gospel or even the Epistles.  St Mark is almost intended for "Snippets" that you can then take away and chew on.  This is the best way to begin well-forming a conscience: meditation on the scriptures in a slow and daily practice Snippets. It could take 3 or 4 months to get through St Mark's, done right. Maybe by journaling.

It's the only way to resist Satan. So that's my challenge today, brothers and sisters: pick up St Mark and meditate your way through it.  You'll find no where suggesting that we're supposed to hide, by the way. When Satan's out there roaming around, we're supposed to resist - not hide.

A blessed feast!


24 April 2017

Except you ravish me.


Today's readings:
And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness...
Acts 4:29

At this time there were about 3,000 Christians in the whole world. Some Protestants would have us imagine that, essentially, those 3,000 would be the entire population of Heaven. I'm not going to wager a Universalism that I won't win because of free will, but I will wager the divine economy is a bit more lenient that some want to imagine. Those 3,000 Christians had a job to do: to witness to the Kingdom of Jesus and as they set about their business they met little opposition. Yet what they met was real enough. So they prayed one kick-butt prayer:
Sovereign Lord, maker of heaven and earth and the sea and all that is in them, you said by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of our father David, your servant: Why did the Gentiles rage and the peoples entertain folly? The kings of the earth took their stand and the princes gathered together against the Lord and against his anointed. Indeed they gathered in this city against your holy servant Jesus whom you anointed, Herod and Pontius Pilate, together with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do what your hand and your will had long ago planned to take place. And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and enable your servants to speak your word with all boldness, as you stretch forth your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are done through the name of your holy servant Jesus.
The Douay is even better:
Lord, thou art he that didst make heaven and earth, the sea and all things that are in them. Who, by the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, hast said: Why did the Gentiles rage: and the people meditate vain things? The kings of the earth stood up: and the princes assembled together against the Lord and his Christ. For of a truth there assembled together in this city against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants that with all confidence they may speak thy word, By stretching forth thy hand to cures and signs and wonders, to be done by the name of thy holy Son, Jesus. 
There are two things that I find awesome about this prayer: first although they recount the history of Jesus' passion, there is no blame. Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the Jews all conspired To do what thy hand and thy counsel decreed to be done. Everything was sucky, yes: but it was only what God wanted. In fact, in God's mercy, that's all that ever really happens. (All things work for the good of those who love the Lord.) So, the Church prays, "Here in Jerusalem everyone assembled against Jesus to do exactly what you planned anyway. Caiaphas, Pilate, Herod, even mighty Augustus obeys God's plans." Now that the local authorities, though, are getting wise - and telling the Church to stop being the Church - the reaction is praising God.

How different is that from us today? On the one hand some act as if we cannot do the work the Church is called to do if the law does not allow us to. Some are afraid of losing tax benefits, or other practicalities. Some are convinced that the very end of Christianity in America is upon us. And some who have us hide away, to protect ourselves from the world: locked in a perpetual Upper Room Option, for fear of the world.

To this cringing, the Early Church - all 3,000 of them - who are about to change the spiritual, sexual, relational, financial, and political shape of the known world, all say: fiddlesticks. This is them saying fiddlesticks:
That's the second thing that's awesome about this prayer - all in verse 29 - "Take note of their threats and give us the cojones to not care." (It's in the Greek...ok, maybe not.) Most importantly, and actually in the Greek, the Church asks for the grace to proclaim God's Logos. That's Jesus, brothers and sisters: the logic by which all of everything is understood and, without whom you may have all the facts in the world, but not the Truth.

Being told "Don't do anything in the name of Jesus ever again" the Church did not run away and hide but rather trusted in God's divine mercy and said, "God's got this and we're just going to keep going." This, my friends, is the Pascha Option. Life has won. #GodWins It doesn't matter how the state changes definitions, or how far the world goes to kill us off. In fact, we know that when the world does that, we're doing something right! When the Church kneels down and says, "Just give us the grace to do what you told us to do..." God's divine Boo-yah! shakes the house.

I know I'm preaching to the choir, so I will just admit how I fail all the time. I'm scared a lot. I need this prayer every moment of the day. I need to remember the Pascha Option. It's deceptively simple: We're a mess. God came - himself - to fix us and transformed the very fabric of the universe. Now, even the sucky things are God restoring us to his glory. The Jesus Psalter would have us pray "Jesus, send me here my purgatory." Send me here all the tribulations and pains I can handle to prune off my pride, my impatience, my lack of charity, my lust. That way I can be more-fit for the society of angels. Send me here the pains I deserve, the sharp corners I must turn. Put me here in the rock tumbler and make me into the Christian you want me to be.

John Donne prays:
Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.
I, like an usurp'd town to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end;
Reason, your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captiv'd, and proves weak or untrue.
Yet dearly I love you, and would be lov'd fain,
But am betroth'd unto your enemy;
Divorce me, untie or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I,
Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me. 
None of those pains are designed to make me shut up proclaiming the divine Logos: rather, in grace, I have to breath deep of the Divine Light and shout, all the louder, from the root-top.


23 April 2017

Peregrinations

Some will know my birth-name was Bill.
Billy as my Mom calls me.
And some will know my spiritual path looks like this.
And some will just have to keep praying.
How I get there is not as important as getting there at all.

This post is made in ironic self-defense.
And sort of a sub-blog.

The Thomas Option


Today's Readings:
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the doors were locked, where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews... Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came.
John 20:19a, 24

Where was Thomas that first night and why was he not locked up for fear with all the others?

Fear of the Parties in Power does not mean there was any real danger. For all we know from our point in history, perhaps literally every Jew is Jerusalem was home enjoying a family meal and avoiding leavened products. Maybe they thought they'd finally done away with this trouble-maker and his disciples were only so much dust. The Romans didn't care: they did their job and killed the guy, albeit a bit unwillingly. I don't think they would want to risk much trouble on the feast either.
In the lessons from Acts this week at Mass, it would seem that Peter has to remind Caiaphas about the guy he had killed.  I don't think anyone cared. Yet the disciples had seen their master slain.  I don't think they were illogically afraid. Yet we can never know how in sync they were with what was actually going on in Jerusalem at that time. It seems possible that their emotions were getting away from them. That crazy woman was getting annoying about her gardener. Matthew says when they saw him, "they worshipped him" but, even then, "some doubted".

So where was Thomas?

The Church Fathers posit the "earthliness" or, if you will, "carnal" nature of Thomas' lack of faith. And I'm ok with that. But let me read that same claim a bit further.

Would not the same man who says "Unless I see and touch him" also say "Unless I see a soldier coming at me, I'm not going to worry about it"?  When the Apostles were hiding out, is it not possible that, seeing how scared they were, Thomas did the manly (maybe brash and stupid as well) thing and went out to grab some food? Later, when Luke and Cleopus get back from Emmaus, "The Eleven" are all there, so he was only out for a short while. "We need food: someone has to get it and I'm not going to let my fear run away with me..." sounds like the same bro who would later say, "I'm not going to let my false hopes run away with me."

This is the Thomas Option then: to not hide out for fear of Jews or Romans. To get out and do something in the service of the Community that might get you killed and know that Jesus was talking to us when he said "blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe."






17 April 2017

Third Petition - Jesus Psalter


To see all the other notes in this series, click on "Jesus Psalter" or in the labels below. To see the first post click here.

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus strengthen me. (x10)

Jesus strengthen me in soul and body to the performance of all virtue for thy pleasure, whereby I may attain to thy everlasting joy and felicity.
Mercifully grant me firm purpose to amend my life, doing penance for all the years I have misspent to thy displeasure in the practices of impious thoughts, enjoyments, words, deeds, and evil customs; in breaking thy commandments for which I deserve damnation and thine enmity.
Make my heart obedient to thy will and ready, for love of thee, to perform all the works of mercy.
Grant me the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, the eight Beatitudes, the four Cardinal virtues; and, by the frequent and pious reception of thy Holy Sacraments, dispose me to thy devotion.

Have mercy on all sinners, O Jesus, I beseech Thee; turn their vices into virtues and, making them true observers of Thy law and lovers of Thee, bring them to bliss in everlasting glory.
Have mercy also on the souls in Purgatory, for Thy bitter passion, I beseech Thee, and for Thy glorious name, Jesus.

O blessed Trinity, one true God, have mercy on me.

Our Father (or Pater Noster). Hail Mary (or Ave Maria)


These petitions engage in one of the best pious customs of the period: making lists. This one is actually a meta-list, a list of lists! Contra the "impious thoughts, enjoyments, words, deeds, and evil customs; in breaking thy commandments" the writer posits the 14 Works of Mercy (7 corporeal, 7 spiritual),  the seven fruit of the Holy Spirit, the Eight Beatitudes, and the 4 Cardinal Virtues. Then the prayer invokes the Seven Sacraments. This pray asks for a lot! Again there is the realization that what went before Grace was sinful, take away my stoney heart and give me a heart of flesh set on fire for love of you.