31 December 2016

Praxis - Towards Community



A long while ago (2006? 07?) I scared some folks on my blog with a series of posts on Doxos Dot Com (they are still out there, but I can't find them at the Internet Archive), as it then was, discussing a protestant group called "Praxis."  They met on Saturday Nights for dinner and a eucharist. They had a very high view of sacraments - so high, in fact, that the evening service was closed to visitors. They did a Sunday Morning thing with preaching and singing that was basically an Office of Readings plus Morning Prayer and a sermon.  The point was to be welcoming - and the idea that closed communion would not be welcoming did not mean they shouldn't do closed communion.

What scared folks was they thought I'd been worshipping with this group that had no orders, no communion with anyone else, etc.

It was a thought experiment that I made up in my head. Not only did it not exist, but I'm so much the Dreamer-not-the-Leader that I just wanted the ideas out there. Maybe someone would pick them up. This was all before my experience in the Buffalo Commune and knowing that such living together was possible.

These ideas still rumble around in my head, too. And on days like today, after I've been wandering in the world all day and I'm sitting home alone, I'm wondering what such a community would be like, attached to the Church. Not making up liturgical stuff, mind you, just to be cool and hip. But rather living together and praying one or two offices together, sharing meals and duties.  It would be someplace between the cool life of the "Hippie House" in Buffalo and the not quite my thing life of the Monastery in Colorado.

It would have to start with my Cooperative Housing Plan for the Future or some other sort of the same ideas. It would need the Liturgy of the Hours, at least, and an Oratory space. It would also need at least a visiting priest. Everyone would need jobs (at least at first) and, it might need a Rule.

This feels like sort of a laypeople's Oratory of St Philip Neri: in which the resident clergy have only their residency in common. They work in various parishes, they have jobs in the world. But they commit to a rule together in common living and prayer: it is that stability in common life together that seems to be what I'm talking about. The main difference is that it is not intended as, primarily, a religious order, but rather a lay community. The visiting priest is to keep the community centered, only. Maybe Mass could be said in the Oratory or not, confessions heard, etc. But it would be good to have such a center person.

Auntie Christ!


Today's Readings:

  • 1 John 2:18-21
  • John 1:1-18

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Filioli, novissima hora est: et sicut audistis quia antichristus venit, et nunc antichristi multi facti sunt; unde scimus, quia novissima hora est. Ex nobis prodierunt, sed non erant ex nobis, nam, si fuissent ex nobis, permansissent utique nobiscum: sed ut manifesti sint quoniam non sunt omnes ex nobis
Little children, it is the last hour; and as you have heard that Antichrist cometh, even now there are become many Antichrists: whereby we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us. For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have remained with us; but that they may be manifest, that they are not all of us. 
1 John 2:18-19

Before he fell asleep in the Lord, my grandfather was seriously into the "Left Behind" series. It became the thing to read in our family just so we could all have something to discuss at the holiday dinner table. I think I read 6 or 7 of the series, maybe 8. Like Harry Potter, after a while the author realized he was making money and cranked out the stuff with nary a thought to editing or quality. It just got boring after a while - not at all like Rapture stuff was in the 70s! I lived in fear then that something might actually happen and I'd miss some cue or clue and boom, everyone would be gone and I'd be stranded on earth without the Holy Spirit (who would leave when the church did). Then there was Hal LIndsey, who could walk his way through the book of Revelation and prove - right there in black and white - that the newest design of the European Union Flag was the mark of the beast.

In each of these "Artistic" genres, the bad guy was Satan, of course, but he had an earthly minion - the Antichrist - who showed up with some sort of business suited charisma and Alberto VO5 hairlock, pearly white teeth and evil. He wafted out of these religious works into the popular imagination. The Omen series was all about him. Eventually, of course, the Antichrist became so evil that he became comic. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman collaborated on "Good Omens" and had me rolling on the floor laughing for sheer relief.

Here's the real kicker: "Antichrist" is not in the book of the Apocalypse. All five times the word occurs it is here in the Epistles of St John. 4 times in this very book we're reading now. And not one Antichrist but many. In another place he warns us that "the Spirit of Antichrist is already in the world." (1 John 4:3) This is not something that is coming later. This is now. Here. Already even in Ephesus in the st Century. Certainly now.

What does Antichrist mean?

It's not like Antimatter: the "not matter" that functions as a counterpoint to matter in Startrek. You can't put Christ and Antichrist in a room together and start a new super nova. If you have 5 Matter, you need also need a -5 Antimatter to make it go "boom"'. Jesus is not Infinity+Christ while the other is Infinity-Antichrist. Anti, in this case, means simply "instead of". Look what John says: "They went out from us" The Antichrists went out from the Church.

Everyone who leaves the Church looking for another answer becomes Antichrist.

Some people leave in good faith. Some people fall away. Some people get into a fight with their priest or the choir director, the head of the Sisterhood or the lady that's been sitting in the pew behind us for 28 years. Some people move to another city and never finish the church shopping. Some people hear the wrong thing in a sermon once and they walk out.

They become Antichrist - looking for something instead of Christ. Since Jesus is, as we read in the Goslep, the wor

Some do come back. Some do not. John says the ones that don't come back were not "of us" in the first place.

Of course we must be careful. I could spin this in such a way as to make it sound like All Protestants. Some Catholics can make it sound like the Orthodox are the Antichrist. Some Orthodox (as well as some Protestants) know for certain that the Pope is the Antichrist. But forget that all for awhile. Antichrist is someone who walks of out of church - maybe forever, or maybe just after mass is over, and goes looking for another answer.

That has been me from time to time. There are just some answers in the will of God I get tired of hearing.

Is that you?




30 December 2016

Our Family, Too


Today's Readings:
Sirach 3:2-6, 12-14
Matthew 2:13-15, 19-23
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Et sicut qui thesaurizat, ita et qui honorificat matrem suam. Qui honorat patrem suum jucundabitur in filiis.
And he that honoureth his mother is as one that layeth up a treasure. He that honoureth his father shall have joy in his own children. 
Sirach 3:5-6

Today's feast is not part of the Byzantine Tradition and, in fact, some Traditionalists in the Orthodox Anglosphere decry it as heretical - even rejecting images such as we have above. However, here is the "heretical" image of the Holy Family from the Orthodox Church in Bethlehem.  This heretical image hangs over the spot of where the Christ child was in a manger laid. The faithful daily kiss the ground underneath this image.


After the "red martyrdom" (in blood) of St Stephen and the Holy Innocents, thenthe "White Martyrdom (in monastic patience) of St John, we have the "Green Martyrdom" of St Thomas Becket yesterday and, today, of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph, her Most Chaste Spouse.

It may seem odd to speak of the BVM and St Joseph as Martyrs so allow me to explain: they did not have to do anything other than be who they were. Mary and Joseph were called to raise up God in the ways of piety and holiness, and to support him. They were chosen in God's wisdom, but their chosenness was specific. God did not pick the next door neighbors, Tom and Helen. Nor did he pick the ones on the other side, Mike and Carol. Either couple would have made a good family. But neither were the family God wanted.

God picked a specific family at a specific time. He picked a specific culture, a language, a genotype, and even a historical period for all the above.

And then Jesus was born. Mary and Joseph gave up normal lives to be the Mother and Foster Father of God. This is why I speak of them as prototypical green martyrs. Their very selves were needed: Mary as a young virgin, Joseph as a wealthy widower and carpenter. Those exact roles were needed to give birth and to raise up the God-Child to be be whom he was supposed to be. In living out their lives exactly as they were, in God's service, they are green martyrs.

If you don't believe in Divine Revelation, or, if you believe in a Mute God, none of this matters. However the Church teaches a divine authority exists. God is not imprisoned by human choices, nor can he be. If you say "God had to be born into such a family" then you are denying the power of God to chose. If you say, "God did that in such a way because that was the culture of the time, it would be different now", then you don't believe in an omnipotent deity who can say what is good and what is not.

The Holy Mystery of the Incarnation is exactly that - a Mystery. But it is one revealed to the Church. And she holds up, therefrom, a sort of family that is God's plan. If you say it was a cultural limitation in which God was trapped, then you have a different understanding of God than I do.

In short: Mom, Dad, and the Kids.  That's the family as God understands it.

Now, we are all sinners and we all fall short. Some of us have broken families. Some of us have odd families that are disordered either by drugs or adultery, sexual sins or fighting, politics or other failures. We may have families constructed by the sins of generations before us, or by the failures of last week. None of us - unless we are this family whom we celebrate today - have a perfect family. But we do have a model to look to, a place to aim for. As Jesus is our model for humanity, St Joseph is our model for manhood, and Mary for womanhood. This is our model for the family.

There is a prayer I say everyday to St Joseph. I used to say it in my unemployment and now I say it as I get ready for work:
Glorious St. Joseph, model of all those who are devoted to labour, obtain for me the grace to work conscientiously, putting the call of duty above my many sins; to work with thankfulness and joy considering it an honour to employ and develop, by means of labour, the gifts received from God; to work with order, peace, prudence and patience, never surrendering to weariness or difficulties; to work, above all, with purity of intention, and with detachment from self, having always death before my eyes and the account which I must render of time lost, of talents wasted, of good omitted, of vain complacency in success so fatal to the work of God. All for Jesus, all through Mary, all after thy example, O Patriarch Joseph. Such shall be my motto in life and death.
All for Jesus, all through Mary, and all after the example of Joseph. Not just my job, but my everything - "with thankfulness and joy, considering it an honour to employ and develop, by means of labour, the gifts received from God." My writing, my handicrafts, my cooking - all for Jesus, all through Mary and all after the example of St Joseph. This concept has given rise to a popular devotion to the Sacred Hearts of the Holy Family that gives visual imagery to that prayer.


Since God himself speaks in the book of Sirach and in the Ten Commandments of honoring our Father and Mother, how much more would God, himself, have honored his own Foster Father and Mother? And since we are made members of the Body of Christ, are not these two also our own Foster Father and Mother, at least in the spiritual sense? Do we not owe them at least like honor as their Son paid them?

When we pray that God will give us a heart like his, on fire with love for the world, do we not know that the best place to learn this - since we are not God - is from the hearts of Joseph and Mary?


29 December 2016

To Love Less is to Hate.


Today's Readings:

  • 1 John 2:3-11
  • Luke 2:22-35

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

He that saith he is in the light and hateth his brother is in darkness even until now. He that loveth his brother abideth in the light: and there is no scandal in him. But he that hateth his brother is in darkness and walketh in darkness and knoweth not whither he goeth: because the darkness hath blinded his eyes.
1 John 2:9-11

This passage begs so many questions: what is love? What is stumbling? Who is my brother? Jesus pretty much clears up the "who is my neighbor" with his famous parable on the Good Samaritan, but who is my brother? Curiously, St John uses the same word for "hate" that St Luke uses when he says we must hate our families compared to Jesus - the word there gets translated "love less".  Here, there is nothing to compare one to the other so it gets translated hate. It means love less here too, to be honest.

Jesus says to do it, John says not to. Using the same word. How's that work?

Blood and water. You know the line, "Blood is thicker than water", but did you know that it is intended as a slam at the Christian Faith? The water there is the water of baptism. And it means that family ties are stronger than Church ties.

Jesus was talking about blood. John is talking about water.

Now, a secularist will tell us Christians that we are supposed to love everyone. And they would be right, really. But they will then define the quality of that love meaning they will presume to tell us what is and what isn't love. We are, for example, supposed to love women enough to let them freely decide to murder babies in their womb. We are to love people enough to allow them to deform or deny their bodies' natural functions. Anything less than letting people do whatever they want whenever they want is not love by this action. But we're not supposed to love the unborn babies. We're not supposed to love the wrong sort of people. And we're certainly not to be concerned about them in a way that would make the right sort of people feel only equally loved as the wrong sort.

A secularist, in fact, would tell us that all religions are about love - and then they would go one to define the love in the same, secular way - and would accuse traditionalists in any religion of not being loving.

The word St John uses for love is Agape - that divine love that is so hard for us Humans to get because it, well, loves the sinner but hates the sin. But more than that, agape wants us to move beyond sin. Agape wants to make us, in fact, divine: and to do that means to move us beyond being simply human, trapped in our disordered desires and our lusts, in our hungers and our distorted natures.

And John tells us to Agape our brother - not to eros our brother, not to philia our brother. Not to sex him or friend zone him. But rather to Divinize him, to draw him heavenward, to love him into the person God wants him to be, that means to love him out of sin and disorder. Agape means to give everyone the only choice there is: Divinity or Death.

You've heard the line, perhaps, "it's not love to let someone go on sinning"?  Well, it can be felt as love to do so - but it's not Agape, which is, really, a divine Tough Love.  Elsewhere John says that God is Agape. To be in Agape with our brother, to be in God with our Brother is not to bless him in sin, not to let her do whatever she wants, but to pull our sister and brother to heaven so hard that, in the end, they might turn away. They are free to go - we are not free not to bring them.

For that would be loving less. To let someone be whatever they want - which to let them die - is not to love them. That's exactly what John says not to do: he who says he is of God and yet loves-less his brother: loves-less than Agape, whosoever only philias his brother, or only eroses his brother. Whosoever only storge (marriage love) his sister - whosoever loves like this but never Agapes his brother has failed to walk within God's light. Agape is eternal, strong, and unyielding: but unconditional does not mean without requirements. Agape will only walk forward with you into God's light. It will come back to get you, yes... but only to pull you forward more.

I love the story of St Thomas Becket (whose feast is today). He was a friend of King Henry II. When the King needed a new Archbishop, he thought to appoint his friend because, well, then everyone would be all buddy-buddy. But once ordained, his friend studied and saw a Truth he never before had known. He became a Christian. And a Christian Archbishop was rather more than the King bargained for - a Christian Archbishop has to love the king, his friend, out of his sins. And that the King would not tolerate and so he had Becket killed.

That's the secret of this passage I think. The world wants us to eros or philia everyone. Ideally both: Friends with Benefits as the saying goes.  But St John - and Jesus the God-Man, want us to Agape, full one, everyone. Because if I Agape you, if all the Christians Agape you, really, honestly - you'll be one of us sooner rather than later.

For this the world will kill us rather than be loved to fulfill its own divinity.


28 December 2016

They have sin. We're fine.


Today's readings:
  • 1 John 1:5-2:2
  • Matthew 2:13-18
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass propers

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
Si dixerimus quoniam peccatum non habemus, ipsi nos seducimus, et veritas in nobis non est.
I John 1:8

The letters of St John can seem to be entirely gnomic, like an epistolary version of the book of Proverbs, although there are some strung-together paragraphs, what I hear, mostly, reading or listening to the letters of St John, is an old man who has a lot to say, but keeps cycling back to the important stuff. If you look through today's passage you see: God is light. If we're in darkness, we're not with God. If we are in light, than we're with God, and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from sin. But if we say we have no sin, then we're not with God... ie, saying we have no sin means we're in darkness.

Which means most of the world is in darkness of one sort or another because sin is not a very popular topic today.

This week, to celebrate Christmas, we have the feasts of a whole bunch of martyrs:
  • 26 Dec - St Stephen, who was killed by nonbelievers for his faith.
  • 27 Dec - St John, who wasn't killed but was imprisoned and harassed by nonbelievers for his faith all his adult life.
  • 28 Dec - The Holy Innocents who were slain by nonbelievers for being born to close to Jesus.
  • 29 Dec - St Thomas Becket who was slain by supposed believers for his defense of the Church.
There's a progression here. The Church's calendar has always been about teaching - which is why the feasts from 26-28 do not change. (The feast on the 29th came later and is of a lower rank but it expands the pattern.)

St Stephen, an adult, was slain for confessing his faith in public.
St John, an adult, confessed his faith, but was only a social outcast - they hoped he'd cave in.
The Holy Innocents had no faith, but the Church counts them as her first harvest of Martyrs because they were slain for Jesus.
St Thomas was slain by other folks claiming to be Christian because he was willing to stand up to the political powers which they supported.

Here's the progression:

The faith annoys people in the world and, for a few hundred years, Christians got killed. It was not a solid killing spree though: sometimes Christians were just the freaky folks that normal people had to put up with. Julian the Apostate cemented the pattern that has held forever: Stalin was still doing it last century and Castro was doing it even in this Century. You kill some, oppress the rest - people give up after awhile. Much easier to buy bread when you don't have to worry about the religion of the baker. In some places the killing gets so great that even the faithless get caught up in the mess. The various wars in various parts of the world that are fought over "religion" end up killing people in the name of religion that might otherwise be faith-neutral. ISIS has slain people who were not Christian who have been named Martyrs by the Copts. Today if you are public about your faith you have to say "yes, but not that kind of Christian" so often. People who pray in public can be mistaken for Muslims by some or for Trumpists by others. How ironic, that? There may be no killing, but there is social ostracization. People of faith can be forced to bake cakes for the Queen of Heaven (see Jeremiah 7:18), but professional musicians and sports teams can break contracts in states with laws they don't like - and be cheered on. It will be the same under our new overlords, just reversed.

Yet, I fear the Becket phase is coming.

In the Becket Phase, people who claim to be Christians - but are really only politicians - will kill off the faithful. This was the height of Elizabethan England: with politicians disguised as Christians killing the clergy and laity of the Church. We have seen hints of this in Hitler's Germany (with the Protestants) and in Stalin's Russia (with the Orthodox). The state successfully buys off a portion of the larger faith and turns it against the others as a method of control.

In America, though, the liberal mainline and the illiberal mainline have both been bought off by political cliques and I think it won't be long before we see them turned against the real people of faith, the Confessing Church. The Confessing Church has always been too religiously conservative for the political liberals and their religious cronies and too politically liberal for the political conservatives and their religious cronies. Both of these groups walk in darkness for they say they have no sin.

Political conservatives insist they have no sin, but they refuse to address the injustice in their own systems - like racism, classism, and economic oppression. Additionally, they are often blind to their more religious moral failings - like unjust wars, political violence in their name. Political liberals (especially today) may be blind to their own systems of oppression such as of the unborn, of workers, of people who don't measure up to the cultural elite. They are more famously blind to their moral sins - sexual sins, sins of defilement of the human person, etc.

Both sides suffer as well from what we might call theological sins: for they want to pretend that all "people of faith" can be combined into their own camp in the name of Lowest Common Denominator, or, pardon the joke, Lowest Common Denomination. Jesus is just a moral teacher for all these folks - he's not God, he didn't found a Church, and he certainly didn't die for love of "our enemies" as well as us! The miracles of the Bible are just awkward. The Creation story isn't true but only useful to deny (or support) climate theories that are popular in one's party. The stories of Israel and Jesus have nothing to do with God's actual commands for action in the world. They speak of "Divine Hospitality" but only for the right sort of people. As one pastor said, hearing a parishioner pray for the wrong Christians, "We pray for their conversion!" President Elect Obama changed his church to please conservatives and President Elect Trump seems to enjoy rallying the conservatives even though he has no church to go to. Both play the political game with the political church folks. They don't actually believe the stuff, and if they could get political coalitions leading to victory without the "religious" vote, they would.

The problem is NOT that politicians play games with people of faith, because show me a politician that is not a gamer. The problem we're discussing here is that people of faith let themselves be gamed in other to get power. Which, of course, means they're not people of faith at all but just passive aggressive politicians who say they have no sin. If we say we have no sin, we make God a liar.

Today we celebrate the Holy Innocents whom some see as a type of the babies slain by their mothers even today. I don't think that's fair, although, it is true that the Gov't seems to have a vested interest in this process of killing. . The babies sacrificed to idols of greed and lust in the Old Testament are a better sign for that problem, theologically. The Babes of Bethlehem seem to me signs of indiscriminate killing - especially if it's done in the name of political expediency. They are signs of the atomic bombs, the gas chambers, the gulag. Tomorrow, though, we get to the Becket phase. Will you or I be able to persevere until the end? I will pray for you. Pray that I can be martyred because I might last that long. Attrition is hard to survive - especially when they offer a good severance package.

The Confessing Church will get smaller and smaller by attrition, and, perhaps, to God's glory, by martyrdom. But attrition will be much more attractive. The seed of the Church is not watered by attrition.

That God is light, and in him there is no darkness.
Quoniam Deus lux est, et tenebræ in eo non sunt ullæ.

The Church will have to be careful. As things get tighter, the darkness on both the right and the left will expand, and draw closer to each other, hemming her in on both sides. But darkness is only an absence of light: the Church must be that light.

But if we say we have sinned... If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all iniquity. we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the just. And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.

But if you say you have no sin anyway... who needs Jesus?

24 December 2016

In the Promised Land


Today's Readings:


(Ya can't even parse that citation from Samuel in such a way as to make sense. So, I'm not gonna bother trying to post it in RSV and Douay!)

Et ponam locum populo meo Israël, et plantabo eum, et habitabit sub eo, et non turbabitur amplius: nec addent filii iniquitatis ut affligant eum sicut prius.
And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and I will plant them, and they shall dwell therein, and shall be disturbed no more: neither shall the children of iniquity afflict them any more as they did before.
2 Samuel 7:10 (Douay)

Although I know that my Bible-related blog posts tend to be idiosyncratic and self-referential, I think today I will just go whole hog. Holidays do this to me because - like most people - I come with a load of sentimental baggage about the perfect holiday that never was nor never will be. I can channel that when I write, but it's really because I'm not with anyone. I'm not with my family. I'm not in community, I'm not "in a relationship".

In the Knox translation, it's much more homey, I think:
Henceforth my people are to have a settled home, taking root in it and remaining in undisturbed possession of it, no longer harassed by godless neighbours.
It was hard at the Monastery, to be riding 300 miles, round trip, to Mass. It wasn't had because of the travel - don't get me wrong. When I travel somewhere, I learn every nook and corner of the route. It becomes so short in my head because it is so familiar. Only unfamiliar roads are long. Even the 800 mile trip from Asheville, NC, to Hamilton, ON, got to be rather commute-like. I knew where to stop for food, where to go to the bathroom, to stop for cigarettes, to walk. I knew where to sleep and where to do my morning Qi Gong exercises. The trip zipped by and suddenly it was boring. But there was nights on the highway: trucks and me, zooming on the road. I was hypnotized in the passing headlights - all pointing away from me as we drove together in the same direction. The drive across country was even worse: because it was all so long, all so new... and yet I'd get hypnotized and the miles would zip by. I turned a 3 Day Trip into a 15 Day Trip but every day I drove further than I wanted to. And some night I just couldn't bring myself to stop.

Ditto the trip to Mass. One minute we were in the monastery, and the next, Denver. 300 miles gone.

I think maybe that's a symptom of my overall sense of rootlessness, that I have no place to call home and no place, really, I want to call home for very long. Growing up in the tiny town of 900 people, I'd go for long walks in the woods in the hopes of getting lost. No worries: my sense of direction just made it really fun trying to get home. In North Carolina any given Saturday could find me taking a sudden turn off the Blue Ridge Parkway and just wondering how to get down the mountain on the dirty roads and back to Asheville. I even carried an extra gallon of gas on my scooter just so I didn't run out. Could I get lost in the mountains? Nope. You'd be surprised what famous writers you can find in coffee shops in the hinterlands of Appalachia, tho.

Then I got a car and the real journeys began. Yes, San Francisco is home, really - more than any place ever has been. But my feet get itchy. Wandering in the Desert for 40 years seems so much nicer. A product, really, of not being in a relationship, of not having a relationship that would last, of not building stability into my pattern, is that I crave it all at once when I hate it.

So what's a rootless tumbleweed supposed to do?
Henceforth my people are to have a settled home, taking root in it and remaining in undisturbed possession of it, no longer harassed by godless neighbours.
I found myself asking God yesterday, as I walked down Potrero Hill to get to Mass, if I could stay here this time. Here being "in one place, in one city, in one church, in story arc." Here being a sense that rootedness = success in a why I've never had, nor never been able to get to.

What's it like there?


Merry Christmas!  I won't be posting tomorrow (although a post will show up). I wish you the most blessed of feasts!

23 December 2016

Tales of the Glory of Christmases Long, Long Ago


IT BEGINS when, prompted by the Wurtsboro Village council and "borrowing" a truck from his employer, the electric company, my grandfather puts up the village lights. Driving slowly through town in a cherry picker, Grandpa puts up the aged white candles, the green wreaths, the red lighted garlands. Snow has fallen. Trees have been placed on stands in living rooms and decorated. Houses have been lighted. I take a trip into the evergreen forest in Wilsey Valley to bring back a huge bag of greenery. Lights and boughs spiral around my parents' house and drape off the stairs.

In mad anticipation my mother cooks, my grandmother cooks, my great grandmother cooks. Aunt Linda cooks. Aunt Marie cooks. Aunt Karen cooks. Families visit from hither and yon, and friends make more attempts to be friendlier than normal.

Timmy, the paper boy, spends longer in his daily stops. During his last monthly trip to punch our card and get things taken care of, he actually comes inside for a sip of hot cocoa and maybe yes, thank you, some cookies. In a few days he'll find a box of them along with a ten dollar bill and maybe some gloves in the paper box as he drops off our copy of the Times-Herald record. At the post office Mom spends far too much time chatting with Mr Olcott, the postmaster, and a trip to Jerry Gaubard's tiny Grocery Store can begin to take hours. The Greenwald's have decorated their drug store. The band stand in the village park is filled with pine and lights. The Canal Towne Emporium positively reeks - well out into the street - with scented candles, potpourri and cinnamon. The Old Valley, filled even in the feria times with Black Forest coo-coo clocks, covered steins and hand-carved picture frames is now decked out in Germanic Yuletide finery: nutcrackers and candle-lighted pyramids. Uncle Jimmy has tiny wreaths on the tables in the dinner.

The Emma C Chase Elementary School has their Christmas pageant: a chorus and a few holiday songs, maybe a poetry reading. The Monticello Central Middle School has its Christmas Concert: a two part choir and a band. The Monticello Central High School has its Christmas Concert: a four part choir, a stage band and an orchestra plus a show-stopping all out choral and orchestral finale. And now School has closed for Christmas Break. After weeks of build-up the day arrives.

Late in the day on Christmas Eve the menfolk vanish off to the firehouse. The women vanish off to the Methodist Church. The kids, hyper-excited, over-extended, exhausted, try to get a nap in: maybe if I sleep now, Santa will come now. But there is to be no such luck for no one is allowed to nap for too long on Christmas Eve.

At 6:30 PM everyone is off - in layers of coats and scarves and hats and gloves - to the firehouse for the village carol sing. The fire trucks have been moved outside, and we all stand around inside the Garage, the largest enclosed space in the village. We are a village of 900 souls gathered around an upright piano that is tuned once a year for this very event. Even in such a small town this is the only time when some of us will see each other. Old friends, not having seen each other since last Christmas Eve, greet each other with warm hugs. Children return from college and stand happily with their parents. Older children return with their own spouses, their own children. Forming huge continents floating in the sea of fellow villagers, they stand with their parents and grandparents, as now my own father stands with his wife and kids, next to his father and mother, his grandparents and five generations total - my sister having her own children now. My grandmother and my Aunt Marie, wife of the Fire Chief, serve doughnuts and coffee. My great grandmother smiles as her husband, the former chief, is greeted with honour by all.

The Dutch Reformed Pastor, the Rev Wing, invokes. Sally or Michael plays the piano and the familiar carols roll out of books that have not been reprinted since the 1970s - and are collected every year for re-use. They are donated by the local bank and they open, too easily, to a centerfold containing A Visit from St Nicholas. The community singing is interrupted twice by soloists: Aunt Betty sings O Holy Night. Nelson Hall sings, White Christmas. There is an irony in a scion of the only black family in town singing White Christmas. But no one seemed to notice - or at least talk about it.

The Methodist pastor, the Rev. Pinto, blesses. Then, spurred on by Uncle John, the Fire Chief, we begin to sing Jingle Bells. We sing loud and lustily - the younger children blasting it out. There is a sound from outside: the tocsin of bells and the claxon of horns and finally the scream of the sirens sliding up the doppler scale as a fire truck comes down the street from beyond the red light at the corner. We sing louder now as the garage doors roll up in joyous welcome and the kids stream out - herded to safety by parents and uniformed firemen. Santa Claus has come to us on our own candy apple red and white truck. When the kids draw near Santa usually greets them all by name - for he is their own uncle, or their neighbor or even my Dad or Grandpa or Uncle Tommy, seated on the side of the truck handing out small boxes of hard candies and cookies.

After a brief trip home to remove some layers and to add finer clothing, all depart again to their houses of worship. Aunt Marie and Mrs Semonite have decorated the Methodist Church. They have polished and dusted until, even in the pre-candle darkness, the wood shines and the brass cross seems to reflect the lights beyond. Pastor Pinto is in rare form this Christmas eve, as his three rural congregations come together in this one building to sing and pray. There is the Nativity Play, kids wearing too many towels and the latest baby born playing the starring role. And then candles are handed out and lit. The quiet, expectant darkness seems to take a musical quality. We sing now in awed reverence, Silent Night. And we walk into the cold to discover that it has begun to snow.

In the busy evening, somehow, Mom and Grandma have conspired to get some after-church coffee and snacks ready. The family rests a bit for a chat, gathered in Grandma's den around the woodstove. Kids get sleepy. Adults get conspiratorial. WALL radio, 1340AM begins to broadcast reports every quarter of an hour about where Santa's Sleigh has been spotted. WPIX begins its annual telecast of The Yule Log, the first ever virtual fireplace.

Children pass out. Parents hide them in cars, asleep next to presents that were also hidden with the neighbours or in some relative's garage. For the child it is only a short ride through the dream-filled snowy night until Christmas Morning. For the parents it may be a longer passage, a bit of a delay next to the tree assembling a bike or a stereo. For the older children it may be a bit of a pain, programming a new betamax for Mom or stumbling around in the dark wishing to be, again, a child who believed in Santa.

And then this Christmas day dawns - the snow has stopped during the night, but there, on the porch, and on the greenery wrapped around the pillars, there is just enough snow to look beautiful. The lights, ablaze even in the quiet sunlight of Christmas Morning, seem to shine out. The family gathers in the living room for presents. And then moves into the kitchen for a snack.

Turkey is stuffed, potatoes are peeled, yams are candied. In other houses of sundry relatives, slaw is made, salads are tossed, pies are baked. Sausage and cheese balls are laid out, on platters with beef stick and hot mustard. Olives are toothpicked and cheese is sliced near crackers. Candied fruit is dipped and the chocolates are powdered. Nuts are laid out in wooden baskets with pliers and picks. Wines and beers, sodas and sweet tea, mulled cider and hot cocoa cover the table. Guests arrived and the prepared foods are merged and arranged into a Christmas Feast. Grace is said, eggnog is whipped and chilled, turkey sliced, bellies stuffed, children served on card tables and 65 plates - the good china and then some - are all laid to rest in the dishwasher as 5 generations partake of the holiday table.

After dinner, children play Show and Tell with their holiday loot as Grandpa and I retire to the den and the roaring fire. We lock the doors behind us for a heart-to-heart over too much eggnog in the growing heat. Children pound on the door and we laugh. Mom comes and forces us to liberate ourselves for socialising. Aunt Sally and Uncle Ray depart, Grandma and Grandpa too, and so with relative after relative until only Mom is left in the too-hot kitchen, and Dad patrolling the darkened house for cups and plates. Or else lighting a fire in the barrel outside, a massive offering of wrapping paper and ribbons and shredded tissue and boxes.

Phone calls are made. My cousins Faith and Roger, our friends Steven, Marc and Jody, Michael and Michelle arrive and converge in the dining room again for some late night desserts - coffee and plum pudding or mincemeat pie - and a long night of gaming and reliving high school, of smoking and staving off the winter chill with fond memories made and shared.

Merry Christmas, we whisper in the darkness, saying our goodbyes softly so as not to wake my parents. Merry Christmas and much love.


In our small town of Wurtsboro, NY, the rituals of Christmas rarely changed when I was growing up, only the participants. Only in such a place could a writer compile a perfect Christmas Memory. In parts of this story I'm 11, in other parts 25... but the pattern was always the same. A lot of these folks have passed now. I don't know if the rituals are still the same. But the dance is always there in my mind, and I'm standing in the Firehouse waiting Santa on the truck. I always hated the hard candy in the boxes tho...

Cheers to Jesus



Today's readings:

  • Malachi 3:1-4, 4:5-6
  • Luke 1:57-66

In the Douay, the RSV, and the NABRE with other Mass texts.

And fear came upon all their neighbours; and all these things were noised abroad over all the hill country of Judea. 
Et factus est timor super omnes vicinos eorum: et super omnia montana Judaeae divulgabantur omnia verba haec.
Luke 1:65

The antiphon tonight, at Vespers, is O Emmanuel:
O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster.
O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.
God with us. "We're on the Lord's team, the winning side," say the hosts at the Catholic Man Show. #CheerstoJesus OK, yeah, I get that: I kinda giggle along every time they say it. But having God with us and being with God are two different things entirely.

When I went to the Monastery in February, I was amazed to hear from various friends about how many people didn't even know I was religious. It's really easy to pick up from my social media, sure, but I'm talking about people who knew me face to face. I may have had God with me - but clearly I was not very often with God.

So I wonder what I did wrong.

I have a few ideas... I'm working on them. But while we have God with us: if you went on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you? I wonder now.

The neighbors reacting in fear... why now? Surely they knew the childless couple were now with child. Certainly they must have heard that the former talking man was now mute. Why, eight days after the birth, do they suddenly have fear? Because the talking but formerly mute priest who was until recently childless but now had a son - was blessing God. I mean, sure, his job's a priest and all, but that's the family business. It doesn't mean much, you know, when you run into him at the market. And now, he's blessing God, like out there in the street.

That's what we don't want to have happen, you know: seeing the blessing God in public and our friends get scared. I think that's where I failed. Maybe. I didn't want to scare the neighbors.

22 December 2016

Eat the Rich!


Today's Readings:

  • 1 Samuel 1:24-28
  • Luke 1:46-56

In the Douay, the RSV and the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Alleluia at Mass:
Rex gentium et lapis angularis Ecclesire: veni, et salva hominem quem de limo formasti.
O King of all nations and keystone of the Church: come and save man, whom you formed from the dust!

The Antiphon at Vespers:
O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis, qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti.
O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

The Readings today are of Mary fulfilling the words of Samuel's mother, Anna, or Hannah. Mary's hymn (and Hannah's before her) is one of the most revolutionary of all scripture, it describes the political goals of many modern nations and political movements:
Fecit potentiam in brachio suo: dispersit superbos mente cordis sui. Deposuit potentes de sede, et exaltavit humiles. Esurientes implevit bonis: et divites dimisit inanes.
He hath shewed might in his arm: he hath scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He hath put down the mighty from their seat and hath exalted the humble. He hath filled the hungry with good things: and the rich he hath sent empty away. Luke 1:51-53
The problem arises, of course, when you forget the God who is talking here. Yes, the rich are hungry, and yes the proud are destroyed... but not in the same way that the Marxists would do it. A Christian Gospel doesn't destroy one or the other groups of people, nor is wealth a sin, per se. The Christian Gospel takes any human division - class, race, nations, sexes, and, in short, it makes both one, or facis utraque unum, as our verse says today.

See most secular politics plays on wins versus losses; haves versus have nots. Politics (modern, ancient, whatever) is a zero-sum game. I have one (whatever) and you do not. If you get the one (whatever) from me, then I do not have it any more. You have +1 and I have -1 and that equals 0. Christianity, however, is a no-sum game. The rich are sent away empty because they are hogging their wealth. In that wealth, in their materialism they are already empty. Yet the poor are empty in this same materialism. If they would offer it up to God, they would become, finally, free in their wealth and the Church would be the stronger because of it. The Mighty have a job to do and their conversion to Christ's Gospel doesn't demightify them. It makes them and their might, the rich and their wealth servants of God, brothers of the poor and the powerless.

St John Chrysostom shows us that there are no "good guys" and "bad guys" in the Gospel - no zero sums:
The sins of the rich, such as greed and selfishness, are obvious for all to see. The sins of the poor are less conspicuous, yet equally corrosive of the soul. Some poor people are tempted to envy the rich; indeed this is a form of vicarious greed, because the poor person wanting great wealth is in spirit no different from the rich person amassing great wealth. Many poor people are gripped by fear: their hearts are caught in a chain of anxiety, worrying whether they will have food on their plates tomorrow or clothes on their backs. Some poor people are constantly formulating in their minds devious plans to cheat the rich to obtain their Wealth; this is no different in spirit from the rich making plans to exploit the poor by paying low wages. The art of being poor is to trust in God for everything, to demand nothing-and to be grateful for all that is given.
(From here)
Mary's hymn is a repudiation of all the division that ruins our world, and also Christ's Church. Mary's hymn shows us that here, in the light of her Son, we are all sinners: and we are all working for salvation together. Your poverty and my wealth can divide us, or they can be used by us in God's service together to heal the world. In God's world there is no room for fights between classes of people - gay and straight, rich and poor, white and black, men and women, union labor and management, oppressor and oppressed, liberator and enslaver. There is only one class of people: those being redeemed. There is no lesser of two evils when speaking of two of God's fallen children.

If the rich come humbly before God, eventually they will be healed - just like everyone else. There is no room in the Gospel for insiders and outsiders, even though there are those who are running further away. God wants them, too.

All are made into one.

And Christ is our King.

21 December 2016

A Still Unknown God


Today's readings:

  • Song of Solomon 2:8-14
  • Luke 1:39-45

In the Douay, the RSV, or in the NABRE with other Mass texts.

O Oriens,splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis.
O Dayspring splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

For some curious reason the Alleluia in our daily Mass text is not based on this Antiphon, which is (as proper) sung nevertheless tonight at Vespers. So we'll stick with it.

I noted yesterday that these two antiphons were of a pair: about being freed from darkness and brought into the light. It is fitting that they should be read on either side of the Winter Solstice, the Longest Night, the night the sun traditionally "returns". As that sun returns the texts celebrates the real return, the real sunrise: the Sun of Justice, Jesus, dawning on his people.

Yesterday I pointed out our self-imposed entrapment in darkness. Even though the Sun rises on us, we clamp our eyes shut to pretend we are not illuminated.

If we were to open our eyes, what would we see?

Jesus is the Omega point towards which all of history constantly tends. If we were to see it clearly, we'd understand that, of course Jesus was born at the Winter Solstice. Naturally he dies at the Spring Equinox. Of course his mother is named for the Seas. Nature is the first Gospel we have, written in signs and regular processions of events. Those cultures that came closest to the natural order were ready for Christ. It is said the Celts converted easily because Jesus' Gospel made sense to the Druids once it was explained. Yet not only those who "worshipped nature" but also the pagans of Greece and Rome, the Taoists of China, the Shintoists of Japan, the peoples of India, Central and South America all heard in the Gospel some reality that was prefigured in their faith.

The Jews were prepared to bring forth Messiah and all peoples were prepared to receive him. The light dawns in the East and it covers all the world.

So, for us in our darkness. What is this to us?

As it was in the time of the Apostles so it is for us now. Having received it freely, we are called to freely spread the light. Think of Paul in the Marketplace of Athens, talking to the people who worship "the unknown God". Paul was able to find a seed of truth in that Athenian temple from which he could grow a Gospel sermon. How do we do that today? Do you know how to address someone with the Gospel starting from where they are, lost in idolatry, in magic, in sex, in politics? Can you preach the Gospel using words crafted by Oprah, Ouija, or Oral Roberts? Who is the evangelist for the Black, the Grey, or the Pink Panthers? Can you bring the light into the darkness that we have today? Who will go to the people of the Gamers or the Goths? Can you bring Christ to those lost in the New Age, or in the tired old teachings of Spong or Tyson? Do you know the Gospel for the internet- or porn- addicted? Who will find the abortionists and suicide doctors? Can you preach to those trapped in racism and hate? How can you bring Jesus to those whom you do not love?

The Dayspring from on high is come to give us the light to reach the world today, to enlighten those trapped in darkness and death. In what function will we shine this light? If we are freed who were trapped in prisons of our own making, what can we do for those around us still enslaved?




20 December 2016

The Cloud of Unwilling to be Told


Today's Readings:

  • Isaiah 7:10-14
  • Luke 1:26-38

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other mass texts.

O Key of David, opening the gates of God’s eternal Kingdom: come and free the prisoners of darkness!
Alleluia.

The full text of the Antiphon is:
O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel;qui aperis, et nemo claudit;claudis, et nemo aperit: 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 can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.
It's very hard to read something about keys and not think about heaven and hell, and indeed we have that here: Messiah unlocking hell, and bringing souls to heaven. Freeing us from death and bringing us to life. This Antiphon is one of a pair (with tomorrow's) speaking of darkness and light. I shall take the liberty of reading this one as more concerned with darkness since tomorrow we think about the Dawn (Oriens).
Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as the nether world, or high as the sky! But Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” 
What is our darkness? I've pointed snarkily at it several times in the recent course of these posts: we love the idea of God but we reject any God who dares speak.

We have a two-thousand year tradition, and some want to imagine that they can toss it out because of modern "gender" politics; a 4000 year old morality (that is widely accepted around the world in various traditions) and people want to toss it out because sex is fun. All that's fine, if you want to play by your own rules, sure. But if you want to follow the God with the keys of heaven and hell, he's already told you what to do. We are blessed to have a God that speaks clearly through his Church - as he promised he would - and most of us want to pretend God is only mute now, and never spoke before, or, if he did, it was only good for a short time. We have erected an artificial cloud of unknowing that keeps us in our own self-enforced darkness. We say in our pretend piety that excuses our sins, we dare not lie about God by using outdated ideas. Yet we dare to lie about God using our own modern lies that are only as new as Diagoras of Melos and Heraclitus.

In our false piety we claim to be really following God because we won't let dead people put words in God's mouth - when, in fact, it was he putting words in theirs. We won't let old rituals keep God in a box, when, in fact, he inspired both the text and the rubrics to help us follow him. We won't let ancient cultures rule ours, when, in fact, he ruled them - and would rule us as well. But we don't like kings. We have blinded God by locking our eyes shut, we have silenced God by destroying our ears, we have killed God by ending life as we know it. We have ended His story only by insisting that history is meaningless and that all events are disconnected; that life just ends and stops. Today things are different, we say, as we turn out all the lights, and clang the prison doors shut behind us. We're safe in here. He can't come and get us. We're safe, we say, from God in the Prison Satan has built for us, deluding us into imagining we want to be here.

I've heard the Resurrection joyfully denied at Easter, the Virgin Birth merrily denied at Christmas, the Divinity of Christ piously denied from the pulpit, the Second Coming of Christ denied on Good Friday - all by people who say they are Christians. I have no idea what the point even is any more, in that idea of "religion" except to damn souls to hell.

They have returned to what the world is: our mission field. Darkness waiting to be illumined.

Jesus comes with the Keys to unlock what can never be locked again. And to lock up what can never be unlocked. When we turn to him, he can free our minds from the prison we have built from bricks that we have baked using clay and straw we ourselves have gathered. And with Jesus - only - we can free the world.


19 December 2016

The Great Scandal


Today's readings:

  • Judges 13:2-7, 24-25A
  • Luke 1:5-25

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Radix Jesse, stans in signum populorum: veni ad liberandum nos, iam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse’s stem, sign of God’s love for all his people: come to save us without delay!
Alleluia verse

Again, the Alleluia verse today is a condensed version of the text used with the Magnificat in Vespers:
O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.
O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.
The Christmas Carol, "Lo how a rose e'er blooming" can make this whole Radix Jesse  seem rather pastoral, floral, and Victorian.

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming,
From tender stem hath sprung.
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung;
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half spent was the night.

Isaiah 'twas foretold it,
The Rose I have in mind,
With Mary we behold it,
The virgin mother kind;
To show God's love aright,
She bore to men a Savior,
When half spent was the night.

O Flower, whose fragrance tender
With sweetness fills the air,
Dispel with glorious splendour
The darkness everywhere;
True man, yet very God,
From Sin and death now save us,
And share our every load.

It is theologically sound, but I think it paints the wrong picture. Several times this Advent I've heard some idea of Mary having an "unplanned pregnancy". I know what's up - people are preaching against abortion and they are to be lauded in this - but the idea that Mary had an unplanned pregnancy is so far from the truth, so alien, as to be 100% wrong.

The Gospel of the Ancestry of Jesus from Matthew 1:1-25 was read on Saturday in the Roman Rite and on Sunday in the Byzantine Rite. That tongue-twisting text contains three surprises: Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba. It is held by some scholars that this text describes the actual lineage of Joseph who was thought to be Jesus' father. (The different tracing in Luke is thought to be of Mary.) So, of course, this is not a lineage by blood - for Joseph had no part in Mary's childbearing. Yet this lineage, cited by St Matthew's Community, contains a two - or maybe three - Gentile women, with one being a prostitute and another an adulteress.

This parallels well other of St Matthew's texts which might be read as surprising - if not downright scandalous - to his community. He's got a Centurion and his "boy", gentiles, sinners... At the end of the Gospel (28:17) he even commissions people who doubt him to preach his gospel! I think that's amazing, given what we think about how the Gospels were written: a collection of sacred stories remembered in a given Community and codified and written down for use in that community. When something is (assumedly) shocking to the community and yet included in the text, then, we think it more likely to be true. Your Messiah had as ancestors a prostitute, an adulteress and, at least, two (maybe three) gentiles.

"Gasp," say all the old ladies.
"Praise the Lord," say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, "Amen."
And everyone worships the Lord together.

Jesus was not exactly reputable. Kings will fall silent in his presence, this son of a prostitute, adultery, gentiles, and a Virgin. See? God can work it out. He really can. The Lineage of David may be a mess, but God can work it out. It's not an unplanned pregnancy, in fact, it's very planned. Very planned, indeed.

In his sermon on Sunday, Fr Hurley suggested that we may be guilty of not letting God's dream for us come to fruition. In the end, we may be so concerned with things looking right, with things being "just so" that we may miss the reality God has for us: as St Joseph was considering "putting Mary away quietly" to avoid a scandal when he found out she was pregnant. Yet Joseph heard God's call and answered. What's for us?

Jesus is, by all standards today, a bit of a hot mess: too liberal for the conservatives, with his willingness to eat with sinners and to party with tax collectors; and too conservative for the liberals (because, "go and sin no more is about all the condemnation anyone can take today). He's born in poverty, and really doesn't hang out with the right sort of people. He doesn't care what your opinions are - he wants you to do things, to give away all you have, to love people. If we want it to be "normal" we're going to miss out on the things God has for us. We can be like Joseph, but instead of hiding Mary "to protect 'her' from scandal" (ie, to protect Joseph from scandal) we're going to protect us from scandal by hiding the real Jesus.

Matthew keeps his reading community on the edge of their seats and kings will shut their mouths - because this entirely unsuitable being, fathered by smelly sheepherders and unsavory women - is God. So, there's hope for us - you and I - who mostly fall between Prostitutes and Kings on the social spectrum. There's hope.

"Gasp," say all the old ladies.
"Praise the Lord," say everyone. And all the old ladies nod and say, "Amen."
And everyone worships the Lord together.

How unbelievably awesome is that? How glorious is our God that lifts up even the bourgeoisie among sinners by going even lower than us to raise us all together.




18 December 2016

The Same God.



Today’s readings: 

  • Isaiah 7:10-14
  • Romans 1:1-7
  • Matthew 1:18-24

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in bracchio extento. 
Alleluia Verse for 18 Dec

I'm cheating a little and leading with the verse for the Date instead on on something from the 4th Sunday in Advent. The verse (as it will be for much of the week) is a condensed version of the text from Vespers.
O 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.
O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstreched arm.
This is the same God. There are some who want to imagine sort of a judgy God in the Old Testament and then Jesus now. Some don’t want to go so far as to say Jesus is God, mind you, but he’s certainly better than the judgy God in the older parts of the Bible. They miss the point. This is the same God.

This is from a letter written by Pope St Leo the Great (reg. 440-461 AD) it was part of the Office of Readings for yesterday in the Roman Rite:
No doubt the Son of God in his omnipotence could have taught and sanctified men by appearing to them in a semblance of human form as he did to the patriarchs and prophets, when for instance he engaged in a wrestling contest or entered into conversation with them, or when he accepted their hospitality and even ate the food they set before him. But these appearances were only types, signs that mysteriously foretold the coming of one who would take a true human nature from the stock of the patriarchs who had gone before him. 
It was the pre-eternal Son of God walking the Garden with Adam, Feasting with Abraham, rescuing Lot, wrestling with Jacob. It was the hand of the Son of God inscribing the law on the Tablets for Moses and on the wall in the King’s palace for Daniel to read. It was the Word of God, not yet come as Messiah, who created the world and all that is in it, and he who spoke from the burning bush.

And it was he who rained fire on Sodom, who drowned the Egyptians, who destroyed the Prophets of Baal - all for their injustices (not sex, or idolatry, per se, although these are also injustices).

We don’t like some of these stories, so we decide they are culturally biased. We ignore them because they “must be untrue”. Yet, we don’t get to pick and choose - otherwise we miss out on the revelation of holiness at Christmas. It’s important that it is the whole Word of God that comes to us, not just some a la carte of some of him that we like (ignoring the parts we don’t like). We are like Ahaz in today's first lesson: who says in pretend piety, "I will not tempt the Lord!" Even though God has told him to ask! Ahaz won't ask, mostly because he's afraid there will be an answer. We don't want there to be a God who can reveal stuff to us because we're afraid he might actually, you know, reveal stuff. So we say there is no God of Revelation, and that he has never spoke... we silence him in our pride.

Either God has revealed himself in our Sacred History or he has not. I’m OK with one or the other on your part, but don’t say you get to pick and choose. You get the package or you don’t get it: you’re on another path. Me too. If God can reveal himself, then we don't get to decide which parts we don't like. (Eg: Why is God the only person who can't pick his own pronouns?)

This is the same God. Jesus as leader of the house of Israel means, of course, that the Church is Israel: and we have to remember what Israel means. “He who wrestles with God.” That doesn’t mean that we win, that we get to change God’s mind or God’s laws, but it acknowledges that we struggle. And that God knows that we do. We are on a wrestling team doomed to fail in our contest: and fated to be blessed by the submission we make to our opponent.

The Doctor knows you don’t want to be here. But you’re here. Let’s make you healthy.

As noted yesterday, our freedom lies in our ability to conform fully to the nature God has given us. That means that the things that are against nature might be fun, but they are leading us away - not towards - God. The Burning Bush calls us forward, gently: it’s pretty! Yet it issues commands as we get closer. Then it gives us hella awkward instructions. Sometimes, we can banter (send my brother, God) but in the end, the commands are for our good and the good of all God’s church. So we have to follow them. We don’t get the beauty without the true and the good. God defines all three.

At Christmas, the same God comes to us as one of us. Are we ready?

17 December 2016

Yeah, that Streetcar.




Today's Readings:

  • Genesis 49:2, 8-10 
  • Matthew 1:1-17 
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other mass texts

Sapientia Altissimi, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentire. The Alleluia Verse

Today's Alleluia Verse is a condensed version of tonight's Antiphon on the Magnificat (sung at Vespers on the 17th for both Catholic and Orthodox users of the Western Liturgy). That text in full is:
O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae.
O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.
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 meeting ended with "you're a nice young man, perhaps you should consider seminary?" You were on you way. That lunch would not happen for me until late in High School when I was Episcopalian, 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 two Summers ago 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.

The invocation of Divine Wisdom - Sapientia in Latin, Sophia in the Greek - 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. What is "correct action"?

In Catholic and Orthodox 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 are because we are imprudent. We can make a given choice based on other things: and so our choices are then against nature, παρά φύσιν (para phusin) which really means "to the side" of nature. We're missing the mark. We're off to the side. Again, that nature is the one God made for us: and all human nature is, shall we say, slightly dented. Some settling has occurred in transit. We're not measuring up to the serving suggestions on the box.

Paul uses παρά φύσιν in his epistle to the Roman to describe a number of things including same-sex sexual activities and men pretending to be women or vice versa. Our answer to that charge, today, is usually "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, the Alleluia verse, the Antiphon, and Christmas itself 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 are many persons in One Humanity. In the Incarnation at Christmas that one Divinity became One of Us, part of the One Humanity, and so the natures are joined. There is no "my" nature: there's just 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 rather on our own plans, our emotions, or our feelings. We cannot have different natures, different odd quirks or we are not saved because Jesus is not one with us, just another guy.

Human freedom granted us by God lies not in the ability to choose to do anything we want (which is properly called license), but rather our freedom to be the most amazing humanity possible lies in the choice for God's plan - not our own. That's the only choice: God's way or the low way. When we choose otherwise we are not being free: we are led away as slaves to our own reasonings, our body's cravings, our appetites, our sins, our lusts, or on our Passions, as the theologians would say. When we convince ourselves that This thing in me 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. How many people will die?

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 include our lives in 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 prudent choices, to have right action, become fully human (like Christ); the first step to becoming divine. We are becoming suave and debonair, that last meaning "meek and humble," not well-dressed. See what our passions do to even the meanings of words?

To get right action again - after we've jumped the rails - requires a metanoia, often translated as "changed mind" or "repentance", as in "If you sin, 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 really am". Christmas 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, where phusis is properly understood as a divine revelation. My choices caused me and others some temporary happiness, but I cannot 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. They led to what is called "False Consolations". I'm not me, I'm a false me, a me created by sins and illness.

A return to the confessional. A return to the Nature God gave me. A return to life. This is the way by to hitting the mark, the path of Prudence.



15 December 2016

Justified.


Today's readings:

  • Isaiah 54:1-10
  • Luke 7:24-30

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass texts.

Et omnis populus audiens et publicani, justificaverunt Deum, baptizati baptismo Joannis. Pharisaei autem et legisperiti consilium Dei spreverunt in semetipsos, non baptizati ab eo.
And all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with John’s baptism. But the Pharisees and the lawyers despised the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized by him.
Luke 7:29-30

...all the people hearing, and the publicans, justified God... It's such a curious phrase, no?  It is not a wonky translation in the Douay, many of the extant English versions render this phrase in Luke 7:29 as some version of the people "justified God." The Greek word is ἐδικαίωσαν and it means "I declare righteous".  In other words, the Bible is saying that the masses of people Baptized by John said that God was justified in his condemnation of those very people. On the other hand, the Pharisees "despised the counsel of God against themselves." Imagine coming to court and saying to the Judge, "My accuser is correct."  That's what's happening here.

It comes up in another place, in the Old Testament: in Psalm 50 (or 51, New Style).  In Verse 4 (or Verse 6, if you're counting like in the LXX) the holy Prophet David pictures God in a court case and says, "that thou mayst be justified in thy words and mayst overcome when thou art judged."  The word rendered "Justified" is the same Greek word we have in the Gospel today. It's represented by the same word in Latin as well.  A lot of translations, however, dodget this one - try to make it sound like "When God judges, he's right" rather than "when we look at God's actions, we see he's right."

See, in the abstract, it's ok to say, "God's right". Everyone says that - even, really, the demons say that.  It's really hard to say, "From where I am in my life, I can see you're right, God." Do you see the difference? The beginning of repentance may be the realization that "Something's wrong here." But when you look around, when you investigate all the options, the second step in repentance has to be saying, "God's right." We cannot fully acknowledge that we have missed the mark until we first admit that there is mark to miss. All else is just a show. Before you can say, "My life is unmanageable" you have to know what a rightly managed life looks like and you have to admit that that other option is way better than the one you have so recently been taking.

The Pharisees, be they the ancient Jewish legal sort, the modern political activist sort, the classic capitalist short, or whatever other sort there may be are all quite happy with saying, "God's right" but they don't want God to speak: they will deny his revelation. If someone else should point out the revelation of God, they have a good excuse. We can ignore that because we know XYZ to be the case now, and we know so much better than this God person. We can ignore what he says about life because this isn't a life growing in me, it is a lump of tissue. We can ignore what he says about loving your brother because that's an oppressor (capitalist, racist, sexist, homophobe, nazit, trupist, clintonista, abortionist, rigid traditionalist, whateverist). We can ignore what he says about sex because Freud. We can ignore what he says about welcoming the stranger because they're Muslims. We can ignore what he says about loving your enemy because 9/11.Pharisees always have a reason to ignore God. They even make up stories about how they can argue better than God. And, boy, didn't they get one over on him then?

It's really important to ask oneself where one stands with God. If the answer is not "prostrate before him begging mercy" one is standing in the wrong place, I think.

Before you get there, you have to admit God is the right person to judge you.



14 December 2016

He didn't make those.


Today's readings:

  • Isaiah 45:6C-8, 18, 21C-25
  • Luke 7:18B-23

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with Mass texts.

Formans lucem et creans tenebras, faciens pacem et creans malum.
I form the light, and create darkness, I make peace, and create evil.
Isaiah 45:7

I struggled with this verse, sitting and wondering what it could mean, for clearly the English and the Latin both say God creates evil and that cannot be. So chewing upon it for a while I opted to look closer into the earlier text and, in the Greek LXX, as well as in the Hebrew it says God creates evil. Yet in that last, having a better interlinear text, a few things were gleaned. The Hebrew uses an adjective, not a noun. Ra "Evil" is an adjective without an complement. It's like saying "God didn't make little green" and leaving off the "apples". So the Hebrew dictionary offers a secondary reading of "Adversity".

Then, coming forward, the Greek, kaka, is also an adjective, as is the Latin, malum. In English, when it says "God creates evil", it sounds to our ears like a noun because it's an incomplete adjectival phrase. We want to make sense of it as "God Creates Evil" but really it says, "God creates evil..." OK.  "God creates evil...." what? To make up for this, the NABRE has "I make well-being and create woe" and the RSV has " I make weal and create woe". It avoids the awkward floating adjective.

The second clue is in the first part of the verse: because Hebrew poetry is often composed in couplets that have parallel meanings. "I form the light, and create darkness." Darkness is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of light. We have God as source of Positive Quality, and also as source of the Absence of Positive Quality. And so, I suggest, the "evil" in the second part of the verse is not a thing, itself, but rather the absence of peace.

Light : absence of light : : Peace : absence of peace.

A former coworker discussed with me her lack of empathy. She knows life sucks, but she has gotten through so many things that one more sucky thing isn't going to ruin her. She is a boundless source of humor and love, and yeah, life sucks. She and I have both come to the conclusion that we have a 100% success rate getting through sucky things in the past, and so we're, on average, set to get through the next sucky thing as well. Although she comes at it with the cynical joy of a cancer survivor, I tend to just hit it with the humility of faith.

It's a very different attitude than our world of "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings". It's a different world from our pain killers and opioids, as well. It's a far cry from our pot and alcohol consumption too. Facing reality with no buffer scares people enough that some people are teaching there is no such thing as reality at all. But neither drug-induced nor philosophical gnosticism can successfully banish the reality of suckiness around us. What is important is how to face it.

Elsewhere the Bible teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus and that all things work together for the good of those who love the Lord. Consider how revolutionary that would sound to a 1st Century Roman for whom all is heartless fate and fickle gods. Now, imagine how that might sound to your random cosmic accident believing coworkers and friends. How can laying off half your coworkers be a good thing? Or losing your family in a car accident? Cancer? AIDS? How can we face the things that happen and keep the peace that our souls crave? How can we live in God's goodness or the absence of the same.

Here is a prayer called the "Prayer of the Optina Elders" from the Byzantine tradition wherein we ask God to remind us that good things come from him, and the things we call bad, and also the unexpected things that no one wanted (or maybe even imagined) until they happened.
O Lord, grant me to greet the coming day in peace. Help me in all things to rely upon Thy holy will. In every hour of the day reveal Thy will to me. Bless my dealings with all people. Teach me to treat all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul, and with the firm conviction that Thy will governs all. In all my deeds and words guide my thoughts and feelings. In unforeseen events let me not forget that all are sent by Thee. Teach me to act firmly and wisely, without embittering or embarrassing others. Give me strength to bear the labours of this coming day with all that it will bring. Direct my will, teach me to pray, pray in me. Amen.
God creates peace and also the absence of peace. But we are commanded to have peace in our hearts - even when there is none in the world. That can only be accomplished with God's help.