30 November 2015

O Key - 4th Advent Meditation

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel, qui aperis, et nemo claudit, claudis, et nemo aperuit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Key of David, and sceptre of the house of Israel, you open, and no one shuts, you shut, and no one opens: come, and lead the prisoner from jail, seated in darkness and in the shadow of death.

Jesus' Advent is rather both like and unlike Prometheus bringing fire: it's not enough that he has fire, he has to bring it to all of us. We must become fire.  What, exactly are you imprisoned by? The verse says "darkness and shadow of death".  Let us set aside "shadow of death" for a moment... but St Paul has some stuff to say about "darkness" in his Epistle to the Ephesians:
But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not so much as be named among you, as becometh saints: Or obscenity, or foolish talking, or scurrility, which is to no purpose; but rather giving of thanks. For know you this and understand, that no fornicator, or unclean, or covetous person (which is a serving of idols), hath inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words. For because of these things cometh the anger of God upon the children of unbelief. Be ye not therefore partakers with them. For you were heretofore darkness, but now light in the Lord. Walk then as children of the light. For the fruit of the light is in all goodness, and justice, and truth; Proving what is well pleasing to God: And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them. For the things that are done by them in secret, it is a shame even to speak of. But all things that are reproved, are made manifest by the light; for all that is made manifest is light.  
Ephesians 5:3-13
Even writing to the saints of God, he admits that "you were heretofore darkness"  something has happened, however, and the Ephesians are "now light in the Lord."   Nunc autem lux. - You are now light.  In the Sermon on the mount, Jesus says, Vos estis lux mundi. "You are the light of the world."

We do however, have a painful ministry: the purpose of light is to illuminate the darkness.

Tim Tebow, a professional football player, is getting a lot of press lately: his girlfriend broke up with him because he won't have sex with her prior to marriage. That's shining a light on the darkness and it's bothering people: so they are making fun of him for not committing fornication with Miss Universe.  This is the second girl to dump him for this reason, the last one being a Children's TV star.

I wish I had learned that lesson in my teens... I might not still be struggling with becoming an adult now. We're imprisoned in darkness.  The thing about darkness is you can't see how bad it all is.  When someone comes along and shines a light on it, you've got a choice to make: step away or yell at the light-bringer.

O come, thou Key of David, come,
And open wide our heavenly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high,
And close the path to misery.

Sex, however, is easy to point at and too expected: we're surrounded by darkness.  Abortion, war, suicide, guns, violence, slow destruction by drugs and alcohol, TV shows and computer games that glorify killing - but even that's too easy.  Our comedy is dark: making just fun out of our darker evils. Have you ever seen a show called "Absolutely Fabulous"?  It's anything but.  Reality TV allows us to see everyone's darker side.  Other TV shows glorify gluttony, greed, anger, and arrogance.  Our politics is filled with the glory of lies and expediency.

The thing is, all this darkness is death.  Humans are not mushrooms and we need light to live.  But we have, as it were, become convinced that we are mushrooms.  We think all of this is normal - healthy. The Evil One makes us hate what is good for us and love what is bad for us. In fact this is such a good trick of his, that he makes us think the bad stuff really is us.  A friend speaking of the recent Supreme Court decision on marriage said she "was given my full humanity..."  I had no idea how to peacefully challenge her on that point.  That's not your humanity: that's a lie.  What part of my life in Christ has failed so much that she could her I would agree with her, and what part of my inability to have a peaceful reply allows her to continue in that mistake? We let Jesus deal with that, I think, and her confessor.

But how is your life a light that shines in the darkness?  How is mine so?  St Paul says, "Walk as children of the Light" and Jesus says, "Let your light shine before men". Paul says that will prove the truth of God, Jesus says "that men may see your good works and praise your Father in heaven."  Paul adds that it will reprove the works of darkness.

Which, of course, means they won't like us so much any more.

That is the whole point of Christmas becoming a light in a world of darkness and dying for it.

28 November 2015

The Rosary: the Preaching of the Kingdom

The Proclamation of the Kingdom is a special mystery because it involves not only Christ and it is not limited in time or space. Anywhere the preaching of Christ is embodied in the world the Kingdom is taking place.  Of course, the Kingdom here is a Mystery, not fully present outside the presence of a Sacrament: an outward and invisible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.  The Church is most assuredly the Kingdom of God on earth just as the Eucharist is really his Flesh and Blood, but it is only the eyes of Faith that can see it and, sometimes, humans can desecrate it, be it an thief stealing hosts or a gunman "claiming God's will" in violence; a priest giving communion and not watching to see if the host is consumed, or a bishop bringing his boyfriend to Church: there is sin on earth.

And yet the Kingdom of God is proclaimed not as coming, but as here, now.

Sleeper agents, covert operatives.

When you're at the Post Office and you interact with Grace, when you stand in humility before some perceived "injustice" knowing that you're working out your salvation, when you reach out in love to some stranger around you - even when "sharing food" is illegal, you're proclaiming the Kingdom to those around you, you are living in it and holding open a door to invite others in.

Ancient Romans thought Christians were violent revolutions, trying to destroy the state, refusing to participate in a Nationalist religion and thus subverting the blessings bestowed on Rome by the heavens. For this they killed Christians. At one time, Americans were afraid of Catholics holding political office because they claimed that Catholics owe allegiance first to the Vatican.  I pray for the day when such suspicion is raised about any Christian acting in our society and I pray for the day when it really is true for me. Because we're no where near that now. We are, in the words of Douglas Adams, "Mostly Harmless".  We've caved in to being nice instead of proclaiming the Kingdom.

The verses I've chosen are the most clear proclamation of the Kingdom in the Scriptures: the Beatitudes which are sung nearly every Sunday in the Byzantine Liturgy.

The embolism I use in praying this Mystery is "...proclaiming the Kingdom of God in the world..."

25 November 2015

O Root - 3rd Advent Meditation

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, that stands for an ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: come, to deliver us, and tarry not.


Blood, the old saying goes, is thicker than water.  It's an old slam against Christians - who are just as human as anyone else: the water in question is found in the Baptismal Font. But often, when in a tight space, a Christian, just as much as anyone else, will "stick to his own kind, one of his own kind". If you're at all familiar with Christians on the internet, you see it all the time: we'll stand with "our own kind" over Brother Christians almost any day.

And our own kind - our blood - is measured in race, or sexuality, in nationality, although sometimes we dress it up as "religion": A "Christian Civilization" as against "Arabs" or Muslims.  We ignore that there are Christians there too - because religion is just one of our things to cover the blood issue.  Blood is thicker than water, after all.  In extremes, this turns in to White Supremacists (who even steal an image of the Crucifixion for their propaganda about "White Man Crucified"), but we do it all the time: any time there is an "us" versus a "them", an "in group" versus an "out group", we're saying blood is thicker than water.  Gangs, fraternities, alma maters with historic grudge matches, Yankees and Confederates, Communists and Capitalists, race, nationality, even sex becomes a division in the body of Christ.

Before I go any further, this is not an appeal to moral relativism: it is possible to be right or wrong.  Nor is it an appeal to a false Ecumenism: Jesus, himself, said, "Not all who say 'Lord, Lord' are mine".  Rather it is an appeal to recognize Jesus' supremacy over all the powers of our world.  It is possible to be either inside or outside of Jesus' posse: but the response to finding someone outside the posse is evangelism, not hatred.

All the powers - the bloods - of humanity are in one of two toggled positions: either bringing people together under Christ, or else bringing people together apart from Christ.  That coming together apart from Christ can look so very much like Christians that we get side tracked into not seeing the bad stuff.  How many Christian groups get all interfaith warm and cuddly without trying to preach the Gospel?

One of the Great Miracles of Christmas is how God arranged the world. The Fathers of the Church, and also our liturgy, praise the Pax Romana, the peace enjoyed by so much of the known world at that time because of Rome's political and military hegemony.  It was all for Rome's own purposes, of course: draining the world of resources and making Rome wealthy; but it held the world in peace so that the Gospel could be spread.  There was a common language, a common cultural understanding - even among different races and tribes - that made it so easy for the early Church to grow.  Compare this to other modern political "unifications" that only force people together without any sense of peace, that often play both ends against the middle to keep all the people arguing and allow an elite group to remain in power, as often the British did in their empire and colonies. (And African Proverb runs, "If you pass a pond and two fish are fighting, you know the British have been there.")  We are still cleaning up those messes in Africa, the Middle East, and Ireland.  Rome was a pagan empire used by God.  England not hardly at all - though it was Christian in name. The same is true of any other "empire" in your life.

Have you ever seen an Empire on parade like on Gay Pride Day?  Or have you seen the blood feuds of Europe carried over into American meeting halls and St Patrick's Day Parades? It is recorded that when the Saxons first came to England, the Celts refused to send them clergy to teach them the Gospel simply because they were Saxons.  Red gangs versus Blue gangs, Nortenos vs Surenos, the list goes on and on.

At several points in my life I wanted to "bring my colors" into Church.  Have you heard about the people who try to wear rainbow sashes to communion?  Once upon a time that was me - although we didn't do sashes back in the day.  It's not enough to stand before God at his Altar: I needed to bring my own kingdom with me.  I wanted a church that was "Gay Friendly" without ever asking if I was being Christ Friendly.

I'm not alone there, bringing my flag.  I know about controversies over General Lee's battle flag being flown at his own parish in Virginia, but what about all those churches with US flags in them - no less a symbol of division and hate to many? Or Grace Cathedral (Episcopal) here in San Francisco, which is decked out in so very many Union Jacks and Royal Standards as to make one think one is in Londonderry just after Marching Season.

And I don't need to point out that the Monarchs of England (and other places, like Russia, Serbia, Greece) enjoy status as Church functionaries too.

The antiphon today calls Jesus an "ensign of the people, before whom the kings keep silence." This is not an Republican cry against Monarchism.  Jesus is not here to free us from the oppression of monarchies, or to give us monarchies to free us from the Majority Tyrannies of the mob.  Jesus - contrary to almost every thing the Secular Left and the Secular Right (through their dupes in the Church) say - had no political agenda.  He didn't "liberate" anyone or preach liberation of any kind. He was not a pacifist, but neither did he get into the political squabbles of his day. The Jews erroneously expected their Messiah to to come and liberate them from Rome. Christians today, no less erroneously, expect Jesus to liberate us from Big Gov't, from Sexism and Homophobia, from racism, from war.  He's not come to solve the problem of Islamic Extremism or the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

Jesus makes all those things shut up - not go away.  Makes them be silent in your heart by virtue of your having entered into his kingdom.

And in the silence, you can be saved.

O come, O Rod of Jesse free,
Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save,
And give them victory o'er the grave.

The problem with every "Us/Them" division is that the people on "the other side" are no less icons of the Living God, no less in need of grace, no less worthy of heaven than the people on "our side".  Gospel was needed in the Concentration Camps of Germany: by both the inmates and the Nazis.  Salvation was needed in the Soviet Gulags no less by the prisoners than by the guards.  the Gospel in America is needed by the KKK and the poor whites whom they brain wash just as much as by the poor blacks that they bully and kill.  Jesus is needed both by the Stupid Party and by the Evil party - apply those labels any way you wish.  It works.  Any tyranny of division is Satan's own.  Yes, there are lines and borders and even language and race divides us, however any failure to see "them" as God's children needed the Grace of Jesus is caused not by the reality of the situation, but by Satan.

Again, this is not an appeal to amorality, or to any false union for becoming Christian means leaving idolatry behind, be it of states, sodomy, or sola scriptura.  But we are called to bring the Gospel to all, and to avoid the luxury of human enemies. All us and them is just you and me and I can not be saved without you.  Blood may be thicker than water, at least in viscosity and specific gravity, but just as our baptism makes us one in Christ, so our common humanity makes us one before God's throne.  In the final accounting no one in the Church will be allowed to say "Those people were not fully human, so we didn't bother bringing the Gospel to them."

And by bringing the Gospel: which means preaching and living it we are saved.




20 November 2015

O Lord: 2nd Advent Meditation

Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento.

Lord and Ruler the house of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the flame of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: come, and redeem us with outstretched arms.

The redemption prayed for in this antiphon has happened - as mentioned in the last meditation: we are once again set to be free to enter into the dance with God.  We can, however, insist on a return to the "slavery to our own reasonings".   It's a path I well know: because I want to be Christian, but, you know, not all the way.

To call the divine child "Adonai" is a theological claim, a heavenly claim.  To call him "Dux" or, as in a few days time, "Rex", is a temporal claim, an earthly claim.  If you will, it is a political claim. In Greek it is usually rendered "Kyrie" which is a title for Caesar.  In Latin the title is usually "Domine" here, however, the text takes up the Hebrew word, one of the Divine Names - using it untranslated, to better make the theological point: this is God in the Flesh. As noted, it's backed up with a temporal title, "Dux" or "Duke".  God was both of these things to Ancient Israel until they begged for an Earthly King "like the other tribes".  God said this desire for a visible, human Dux was a rejection of his kingship.  In his mercy he gave them what they asked for, first a "king that looked like a king" in Saul, then a king that acted like one in David.  Perhaps in a divine show of humor, he became one of the children of that earthly kingship: in and by himself returning the throne and crown to himself. As he is the Lawgiver in heaven through Moses, so he is the lawgiver on earth through his Church. The divine and the earthly are joined in this man: Christ is both God and Man and he is Lord of Heaven and Earth, both Adonai and Dux.

O come, O come, thou Lord of might,
Who to Thy tribes on Sinai's height
In ancient times didst give the law
In cloud and majesty, and awe.

What would it mean for a human person - or nation - to call this God-Man, "Adonai et Dux"?  We know that Jesus, himself, said that just saying this was enough:
Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum caelorum: sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in caelis est, ipse intrabit in regnum caelorum. 
Not every one that saith to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my Father who is in heaven, he shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. 
Matthew 7:21
Saint Paul adds: Et nemo potest dicere, Dominus Jesus, nisi in Spiritu Sancto. And no man can say the Lord Jesus, but by the Holy Ghost. (I Corinthians 12:3) Simply saying it is not enough - there is the doing. Saint James says, "Estote autem factores verbi, et non auditores tantum: fallentes vosmetipsos." But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. (1:22) Saying is a start: but doing is the key.

I am aware at how good I am at saying.  I am equally aware at how good my friends are at calling bull-pucky.  I am thankful for my friends, liberal and conservative, Christians and not, who have challenged me since High School: saying you cannot be both Gay and Christian without warping one or the other beyond all recognition - so much so as to no longer need the name.  I'm sorry it took most of my life to hear them, but I am thankful for them.   Ditto the people who call bull-pucky on my lack of charity or, most recently, on my sloth.  Saying, "Jesus is Adonai and Dux" means a serious essay towards fixing things over which he's not Lord. I have learned to hear my Holy Guardian Angel saying "Stop That".  Just gotta learn to listen...

Thing is, Jesus makes it clear it's possible not to get this point at all.
Multi dicent mihi in illa die: Domine, Domine, nonne in nomine tuo prophetavimus, et in nomine tuo daemonia ejecimus, et in nomine tuo virtutes multas fecimus? Et tunc confitebor illis: Quia numquam novi vos: discedite a me, qui operamini iniquitatem.

Many will say to me in that day: Lord, Lord, have not we prophesied in thy name, and cast out devils in thy name, and done many miracles in thy name? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity.  
Matthew 7:22-23
It's possible to spend your entire life going to church or thinking "spiritually" but never change your bed, your food, your social patterns.  It's possible for people to look at you and say "Yeah, he's a Christian, but I'm thankful he's not that sort of Christian: he's kinda cool."  Or, if they are your friends, really, they may challenge your integrity on that point.  Be sure to listen then - it may save your soul.

There will be preachers and prostitutes, pious peddlers and impious pastors, popes, police, patriarchs, politicians, and you and I standing before the throne at the last day: will our lives - or only our words - say "Adonai et Dux"?

What do your friends think?




18 November 2015

The Rosary: The Wedding At Cana

My most sincere apologies for the lateness of this post - it should have happened on Sunday!

This mystery is about the Wedding at Cana: given all the hoopla currently around marriage, I think is a mystery for us all to pray all the time.

It is true that it is from Christ's presence at Cana that the Church develops a sacramental idea of marriage.  But it is also true that for the longest time marriage was seen as a secular issue with which devout Christians could work out their salvation.  First it was a state of life, governed by the state, which is blessed by the Church - giving it a sacramental grace.  Later it became a sacrament wholly governed by the Church.  But the State has always held so many of the cards in hand, that this state of life has always had risks: when the Byzantine Emperors and the English Kings wanted divorce, churches complied.

But as St Paul says, the Union of a Husband and Wife is a Mystery of Christ and his Church.  This union of opposites, the merger of the two poles of human nature into one flesh, is how God becomes Man to save Man.  At every wedding, inside every measure, God takes our human water - used for washing dishes - and turns it into Divine Wine.

It is exactly in washing dishes that we find salvation with our spouse.

There is no liturgical commemoration (east or west) of the Wedding at Cana outside of every Wedding Ceremony, so I have take parts of the Byzantine Rite of crowning and marriage.  It's important to know: in the ER there is no vow. It is the blessing of the priest  - more correctly, God's response to that blessing - that makes the marriage happen, just as it is his blessing that makes the Eucharist.

Mary's place here is important for she prays her son to do something.  And he listens to his mother.  From this we draw the idea that she is our Intercessor and Mediatrix before the Divine Throne.

The embolism I use for this:

...blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, who heard thy prayers at the Wedding in Cana, changing water into wine. Holy Mary...

15 November 2015

O Wisdom: 1st Advent Meditation

By way of introduction I have been posting meditations on the "Great O" Antiphons since I was Chrismated in 2002. There are seven in the Tridentine liturgy plus one more from the Sarum Rite. These 8 antiphons space out rather nicely over the 40 days of the Byzantine Rite Advent Fast which starts today, 15 Nov. I will, God Willing, post on 20th, 25th, and 30th November, 5th, 10th, 15th and 20th December. For a good bit of history (as well as html Frames!) see Fr Z's page here. He also does meditations on the Antiphons and some of my RCC and even WR friends may appreciate his take more!


Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodidisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviter disponensque omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.

Wisdom, who came from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from end to end and ordering all things mightily and sweetly: come, and teach us the way of prudence.

This Advent I'm meditating on failure - mine, mostly, but our shared failures as well.  Another word for failure is "harmartia", which comes from the Greek ἁμαρτία, from ἁμαρτάνειν hamartánein, which means “to miss the mark” or “to err”.  It's usually translated "sin", but I'm going to stick with failure for now because I am here, "Midway in the journey of our life" and it seems a good time to do so.  So this is a sort of "Life Confession" or "Midlife Confession".

From 5th Grade, at least, I wanted to be a minister.  Our family was Methodist. I've no idea what the Methodist "Ordination Process" was like in 1974, but it was probably some low-church version of "lunch with the Bishop."  If the Lunch ended with "you'er a nice young man, perhaps you should consider seminary?"  You were on you way.  That lunch would not happen until late in High School, but from fifth grade on I was teaching Sunday School and preaching the "Youth Sunday" Sermon.  Pastor Bob was a great encouragement to me in Wurtsboro, NY, as was Pastor Jim when we moved to Acworth, GA.  But somehow, 40 years later, I'm not ordained.

This self-evident fact was given to me like a hard face slap a couple of years ago, just after my 49th birthday, as a friend was ordained to the priesthood.  I realized that given all the same choices as I, he had taken them differently in several places and his choices had led him to where I had claimed to want to go. Another friend was ordained this Summer and his mother commented regarding her pride in the choices he had made to get there.  She used the words "Sacrifice" and "Integrity".  These are not words I would be able to use to describe my life's journey.

O come, O Wisdom from on high,
who orders all things mightily,
to us the path of knowledge show,
and teach us in her ways to go.

The invocation of Divine Wisdom - Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in the Greek - at the beginning of these Advent Devotions is to a specific end: the inculcation of Prudence in the worshipers.  But what is Prudence?  It is one of the four Cardinal Virtues which also include Justice, Temperance, and Courage. (There are also three "Theological Virtues": Faith, Hope, and Charity.) Prudence is primarily about foresight, about seeing which of several possible choices is the moral choice, the right choice.  By the correct actions we can grow the other virtues as well.  Prudence is regarded as a prime virtue for this reason: you can't get the others without it.  But what is "correct action"?

In Orthodox and Catholic understanding of the human person man's natural state of being, his φύσις or "phusis" is according to God's plan for his life.  In this natural state - that state "according to our nature", the nature God intended for us - man makes prudent (correct) choices and from this correct action flows. Correct action is according to our nature.  Our failures throw this prudence off course.  We make a choice based on other things: and so our choices are against nature or παρά φύσιν (para phusin) which really means "to the side" of nature: and look, we're back to missing the mark again. We're off to the side.

Paul uses παρά φύσιν in his epistle to the Roman to describe a number of things including same-sex sexual activities, men pretending to be women or vice versa.  Our answer to that charge, today, is "Yes, but this is my nature.  Paul had no idea about my nature.  For me to pretend to be something else would be against my nature."  To this individualistic claim, Advent is a Divine Slapdown. Human nature is one ontological whole: yes there are many persons who are human, but there is only one Human Nature.  Just as there are three persons in the One Divinity, so there is One Humanity.  In the incarnation of that one Divinity as One of Us, part of the One Humanity, the natures are joined.  It is not my nature: it's nature.

Your nature is no different from mine save in the ways each of us fails in the path of prudence - of making choices based not on the Divine Plan but on our own plans, our emotions, or our feelings. Human freedom lies not in the ability to choose to do anything we want, but rather our freedom to be the most amazing humanity possible lies in the choice for God's plan - not our own.  When we choose else we are not being free: we are led away as slaves to our own reasonings, our body's cravings, our appetites, or on our Passions, as the theologians would say.  When we convince ourselves that "This thing contrary to God's plan is really who I am" we are exposing our own lack of understanding of our shared human nature.  We are rather like a street car refusing to ride on the tracks laid out for it - and insisting that it's a better street car because of its ability to jump the rails.

The first Great O Antiphon is a prayer for Divine Sophia, to teach us prudence, to show us the way to go.  We want her to put our lives in o that "all things mightily and sweetly" dance into which she orders the world. We want her to make our lives, to borrow a pun from the Latin, suave.  As Sophia is Christ, the Incarnation itself is an answer to this prayer. Jesus becomes man to restore our sanity, to restore to us our natural, inborn ability to make the right choices, to become fully human (like Christ) which is the first step to becoming divine.

To get to right action again - after we've jumped the rails, as it were - requires a metanoia often translated as "changed mind" or "repentance", as in "If you miss the mark, you must repent".  But it's  not just a "changed mind" but "beyond mind".  We need to get beyond our own thinking, our own little box of ideas about "who I am".  Advent is the only way out: God becomes us so we may join him in the dance.  God reveals to us in himself the fullness of humanity and, by becoming man, restores to all of us our natural humanity.

When I look at my life I see that my choices were imprudent because they were para-phusis, if phusis is understood as a divine revelation.  I will admit my choices caused me and others much temporary happiness, but I can not say that they have made me into the person I wanted to be way back in  fifth grade.  Nor, to judge by my active life in the confessional, have they made me into the person God wanted me to be.

Which leaves me with one remaining question: perhaps that desire, first voiced in 1974 or '75, was the wrong choice.  Can a fifth grade be prudent? Is it possible for the fifth grader to derail the man?

12 November 2015

The Rosary: The Baptism of Christ

In the East this event is commemorated on 6 January, which feast is called the Theophany, or manifestation of God.  In the West the Baptism of Our Lord is commemorated on 13 January: the Octave Day of Epiphany, which feast commemorates the coming of the Magi and the manifestation of the Messiah to the Gentiles. The Byzantine texts celebrate this feast not just as the manifestation of the Messiah but as a full manifestation of the Trinity: with the voice of the Father and the descent of the Holy Ghost in the form of the dove.  This feast then - not just to the Gentiles - but to everyone - is the first full revelation of the One God as a Trinity of Love, the passing of the old covenant, the beginning of the new.

In praying this Mystery, I use the embolism, "Who was baptized in the Jordan by John."

09 November 2015

Quest for Chicken


So there was this Sheik who, as a youth, had studied in America, in the south, in fact, where he learned to like fried chicken with all the fixings

And as he was sitting at the Oasis, surrounded by the court and camels, he turned to his son and said, "My son, my son, the sun is darkened in my eyes and I will faint and die if I do not again taste of the succulent fried chicken of my youth."

And his pious son, whose name was Beau, turned to him and said "My Father, may you live for ever. I will find you a chicken and we shall prepare it together to your liking.  And there shall be a feast!"

Beau and his wives and their maidservants went off on a quest traveled far to the north where the found a farmer.

"Oh, good farmer", began Beau, the son of the Sheik. "We are come in search of chickens that my Father - may he live for ever - might have them fried as they were in the days of his youth."

And the farmer replied, "Fair sir from a far country, forsooth, there were once many chickens in this land, but lo: a dragon has come and captured them all. And every day he places one of our flocks before him and breathes fire on them and makes them all extra crispy as we make them here in these parts.  Then he eats them.  We are all starved for chicken, having nothing but this one carrot and a few bits of cotton left."

Then said Beau, the Son of the Sheik, to the Farmer, "We must slay the dragon!  I will fight him and slay him and then we shall have chicken!"

"With you as our champion, we will never go hungry again!" Added the farmer, shaking his fist in the air.

"But,: continued the farmer. "You cannot fight the dragon lest you lure him out of his cave.  How will you do that?"

Beau thought for a moment.  Then he smiled.

"Dragons like beautiful women! I shall tie one of my wives' maidservants beside the monster's cave and I shall hide. And when he comes out to see her beauty, I will jump on him from the shadows and slay him."

The farmer replied, "Okaaaaaaaaayyyy...." And wandered off to invite neighbors to come watch, because they'd never tried this before, of course.

As the local watched (some made pop corn), Beau tied up a maid to a post by the dragon's lair and then sat nearby and watched.  Knowing full well what would happen, one of the locals said "Hey, Dragon!"  This yelp caused beau to turn around momentarily and in that moment the dragon came out and gobbled up the maid and then vanished.  Beau turned back to see an empty post.

The locals tried to suppress their giggles.

I'm going to cut this story short (in the movie the montage will happen here, along with some really wonderful sort of Benny Hill music).

When all the maids were gone, Beau sighed and tried with his wives. (Another montage here, this time with "Gone with the wind" theme playing.)

And then they were gone.

And Beau went home.

And there was some giggling on the part of the villagers, but most people were just bored enough to go back to work and forget it all happened.

Returning to his father empty handed Beau had to tell him all.

And his father was sad and said, "you mean...."


07 November 2015

The Luminous Mysteries: Introduction


To the standard 15 Decades of the Rosary, Pope John Paul II suggested another 5, the Mysteries of Light or the Luminous Mysteries. He did this in his letter, Rosarium Virginis Mariae on 16 October 2002.  Whilst these have been accepted by Roman Catholics, they are not in very common use by other Christians who prefer to stick with the "traditional Rosary".   These five "new" mysteries are:
  1. The Baptism of Christ
  2. The Wedding of Cana
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom of God
  4. The Transfiguration
  5. The Mystical Supper
It may surprise some Orthodox - even those Byzantine Rite folks generally supportive of the Western Rite and also Western Rite folks in general - to hear that I advocate the use of John Paul the Second's "innovation".  I do so for three reasons:
  1. It does (as the Pope said) expand this devotion to encompass the whole life of Christ.
  2. It expands the meditation to the Holy Sacraments.
  3. It makes (by both 1 & 2 together) the entire meditation more Orthodox.
1. The Whole Life of Christ
The existing 15 Mysteries focus our attention on the Birth and the Death and Resurrection of Christ, but it is the entire presence of God with us that is salvific.  These five new mysteries widen out the scope of the prayer to teach that every action of God from the Annunciation (and before) to the Glorification (and beyond) was part of our salvation.

2. The Holy Sacraments
Each one of the Luminous mysteries seems, to me, to point to one of five Sacraments:
  1. The Baptism of Christ - Our Baptism
  2. The Wedding of Cana - Holy Matrimony
  3. The Preaching of the Kingdom of God - Holy Orders
  4. The Transfiguration - Confirmation/Chrismation
  5. The Mystical Supper - The Holy Eucharist
I recognize that #4 is a stretch, but we're talking poetic meditation here, not doctrinal teaching. 

3. More Orthodox
If the main objection Orthodox have to the Rosary (as I have heard) is not "it's Roman Catholic" but rather "too Western" (whatever that means), I think the addition of the Mysteries of Light fixes that.  They remove the focus from all the "sad stuff", widening it out to "all the stuffs".  It makes it a more holistic discussion of the Incarnation, Death and Resurrection of the God-Man, or, to use a mid-century modern phrase, the Christ Event.   

Those of you who didn't drop your reading device at the end of the last paragraph are begged to pray for me.  I will wrap up this intro now and on Wednesday begin the last five posts in this series.

Those of you who have asked for one of my hand-made Rosaries will get one when the series is done!

The Rosary: Closing Prayers & Suggestions


When praying the Rosary, it is traditional to do one set of five mysteries (eg, The Joyous Mysteries) - also known as five decades - at a time, although another pious practice is to do three Mysteries a day as a minimum.  My personal practice is five decades a day, although I do not get them all at once (more on that below).  At the end of the last decade, including the concluding Gloria, it is traditional to end your Rosary with these prayers:

The Salve Regina 

Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail, our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry,
Poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send forth our sighs,
Mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate,
Thine eyes of mercy toward us;
And after this our exile,
Show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving,
O sweet Virgin Mary.

℣. Pray for us, O holy Mother of God,
℟. That we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ, thy Son.

O GOD, Who by the life, death, and resurrection of Thy only-begotten Son, hath purchased for us the rewards of eternal salvation, grant, we beseech Thee, that meditating on these mysteries of the most holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we may imitate what they contain and obtain what they promise, through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.

℣. May the Divine Help remain with us always,
℟. And with those who are absent from us.

℣. May the souls of the faithful through the mercy of God, rest in peace.
℟. Amen.

In my own practice I end each set of five decades this way, but if I have to stop "in the middle" as it were, I  say instead, only this prayer, which is the oldest known prayer to the Blessed Virgin (dating back at least to 250 AD):
Under thy protection we flee, O Holy Theotokos; despise not our petitions in our necessities, but deliver us always from all dangers, O glorious and blessed Virgin. Amen.
There are various traditions of how to pray this and on what days to pray what.  You can see various suggestions around the net.  I stick with doing the Glorious Mysteries on Sunday, and starting the Joyous Mysteries on Monday.  However:

The traditional Dominican Rosary, as we have it today, with the three sets of five decades as we have included it in this series, is the method of praying the rosary that survived the middle ages.  There were other methods at that time: I've heard one scholar say that at one time there were 150 different mysteries, one "Ave" for each.  I don't know about that... but the point is made that the Rosary went through an evolution before Dominic de Guzman and his Preachers made it popular in a standard form.  It survived that way for nearly 775 years, until Pop John Paul suggested five more mysteries.  I will continue this in a new post, but I think JPII's additional mysteries actually make the Rosary more Orthodox and so I think they should be included.  Thus I pray:

Monday: the Joyous Mysteries
Tuesday: the Luminous Mysteries
Wednesday: the Dolorous Mysteries
Thursday: The Glorious Mysteries
Friday: The Dolorous Mysteries
Saturday: The Joyous (and/or the Luminous) Mysteries
Sunday: The Glorious Mysteries


04 November 2015

The Rosary: The Coronation of the Blessed Virigin

Our Lady's coronation by her divine Son as Queen of Heaven is, in fact, the second coronation in the Rosary: the first being that of her Son, himself, by the Romans; but where the Virgin receives a crown of twelve stars from Jesus, he, at the hand of his fellow men, received a crown of thorns.  Jesus entire ministry was taking man into divinity.  Our nature, the stuff of which we are made - each of us, born of woman, born in pain between blood and feces - is raised up to God that we might follow and, here, Mary is the first.

She was the first to carry within her body the God-Man in the flesh: as we do now, after communion, also carry his flesh and blood.  She was the first to open fully her life to the Holy Ghost, as we do (or try to do) daily. She was the first to know the Incarnation, to dance in the new gavotte that God was calling.  And so she is the first to be fully divinized, fully en-theosed, to be crowned in heaven.

We to, if we dare, can be filled with the Holy Ghost, bear Christ in our bodies to the world, only fall asleep, never die, and be crowned in heaven. But only if we dare to take God by the hand and dance.   Yet, more than just a prophetic sign for us, Mary is Queen of Heaven and of each of us if we will let her reign.  Her coronation is her confirmation: she is mother of the Church, the untilled field from when sprang the divine wheat, she is the fount of wisdom, the unhewn mountain, the multiplier of wheat, the way shower, the gate through which the king has passed.  The titles continue for pages and pages.

I've taken the verses from the Akathist to the Blessed Virgin which would be a bit long-winded if one were reading these texts as part of a full, five- or fifteen-decade devotional, but as a meditation on this one mystery, they make perfect sense.

The embolism I use for walking or private prayer is: and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus, crowning thee Queen of heaven and Queen of my heart.

01 November 2015

From St Bede on the Feast of All Saints



Dearly beloved : Today we keep holy-day, with one great cry of joy, in memory of all the Saints ; whose presence is a gladness to heaven ; whose prayers are a blessing to earth ; whose victories are the crown of holy Church ; whose testimony is now to be honoured in proportion to the glory imparted to it by the agony which was endured in the giving of it. For the greater the torment, the richer the reward ; and the fiercer the battle, the brighter the glory of the fighters whose triumph in martyrdom was in this wise adorned with more sufferings.

Our mother the Catholic Church, which is spread far and wide throughout all this planet, hath learnt, from Christ Jesus her Head, to fear neither shame nor cross nor death, but to increase in strength by enduring suffering rather than by resisting it.

Therefore she was able to breathe into each one of that noble band, which persevered under condemnation to suffering, a spirit of courage like unto her own, even the hope of conquest and glory, whereby they were invigorated to persevere manfully in conflict unto the very end.

O truly blessed Mother Church, whom God's mercy doth so illumine! Whom the glorious blood of victorious Martyrs doth adorn! Whom the inviolate virginity of so many pure souls doth clothe with raiment white and glistening! Neither roses nor lilies are wanting in thy garlands. Therefore dearly beloved, let us each one of us strive to attain the goodly crown of one or the other of these dignities, either the glistening whiteness of chastity, or the red dye of suffering. In the heavenly army both peace and war have chaplets of their own, to crown Christ's soldiers withal.

Moreover, the unutterable and infinite goodness of God hath provided this, namely, that the time of working and wrestling is not over-long, much less everlasting, but as it were for a moment. That is, only in this short and scanty life is there wrestling and working, but the crown and the prize endureth for a life which is eternal. The work is soon over, but the wage is paid for ever. And when the night of this world is ended, the Saints see the clearness of the essential light, and receive a blessedness outweighing the pangs of any torment, as testifieth the Apostle Paul : The sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

The Rosary: Our Lady's Death and Assumption

Here, at last, is one place where the Romans and the Orthodox might differ in the Rosary - although as recently as the middle of the last century this was not so. When I was a freshman in High School I found at a used bookstore, a book on the Apparitions of Our Lady. It was certainly Roman Catholic, including the stories of Knock, the Miraculous Medal, Lourdes, etc.  It started with a Vita, a Life of the Blessed Virgin and included the stories of her birth and the Presentation in the Temple, of Joseph's miraculous rod and the like. And in the end it told of her death: how the Apostles had been drawn from all the ends of the world to witness her death, and how Thomas was not there. How when he arrived, three days later, John took him to the tomb and it was empty: filled with the scent of roses.

This is, essentially, also the Orthodox story of the Life, Death, and Assumption of the Virgin. It is painted in many icons and many western painting (see below for an image by Giotto).

For some Romans, today, however, Mary did not die. How could she? Since she had never sinned and was free of "original sin" (not an Orthodox teaching per se) how could she be subject to death? Death is the punishment for sin! This is not the case with all Catholics. The New Advent Catholic Encyclopaedia makes that clear in the articles on Mary and on her Assumption. Both articles refer to her death. So, again, I'm only talking about some Roman Catholics. I've even heard one Catholic Priest use the Orthodox Title for this feast ("Dormition" or "Falling Asleep") as proof that we don't believe she died either: it's a "process so unlike death", he said, that we "call it a falling asleep". Of course, as we know from Orthodox Teaching, for all Christians, death is now only Falling Asleep in the Lord. We will all do it: Just as Mary did.

This Mystery is, thus, a meditation on our own death and a realization that the fear of death is needless as death is but a gateway to victory. In his death, Jesus has turned death into only more life. And so for us, if we die in Christ, we are more alive. As the Mass for the Dead (Western Rite) says, "Tuis enim fidelibus, Domine, vita mutatur, non tollitur: et dissoluta terrestris hujus incolatus domo, aeterna in coelis habitatio comparatur." For to thy faithful people, Lord, life is changed, not taken away; and when the home of this earthly sojourn is dissolved, an eternal dwelling is made ready in heaven.

I have chosen verses from the Feast of the Dormition. For an embolism I usually say, "Fruit of thy womb, Jesus assuming thee, body and soul, into heaven."