31 January 2017

Truth is. Or nothing is.


Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 12:1-4
  • Psalm 22:26-32 (Responsorial)
  • Matthew 8:17 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 5:21-43

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Quid turbamini, et ploratis? puella non est mortua, sed dormit.
What is this stir, this weeping? The child is not dead, she is asleep.
Mark 5:39b

When I was a kid, the movie "Phantasm" was one that totally wrecked my world in the way that would give you creepy dreams and destroy decent nights of sleep. It is a very good horror film - a classic of the genre. But it has a most interesting plot twist (Spoiler Alert) in that after finding all the ways a local mortician has been making the dead into Zombies and killing everyone to sell them into slavery, the main character wakes up to discover the whole thing has been a dream, crafted in his mourning, to deny the death of his parents. (Then the movie throws another twist and everyone screams... and the credits roll.)

This is one of those things about which the Eastern Church seems to get hyper pious: "Our brother has fallen asleep in the Lord." It seems nearly like a "taboo", one of those superstitions ingrained in the culture of Russia and/or Greece that has just carried over. But it is something else, something more important. Saying "The Child is not dead, she is asleep" (as elsewhere Jesus says, "Our friend, Lazarus, sleepeth.") and this all means so much more.

St Bede the Venerable says "For to men she was dead, who were unable to raise her up; but to God she was asleep, in whose purpose both the soul was living, and the flesh was resting, to rise again. Whence it became a custom amongst Christians, that the dead, who, they doubt not, will rise again, should be said to sleep."

That is our take right now: people are dead and gone. We don't render them honors and obsequies in the way we used to because it is for us, the living, that we have funerals now. Even in some churches that should know better, we have "Celebrations of Life" and "Mass of the Resurrection".

The Christian story is so much more hopeful than that. Even in life, we are in the midst of death - the real death of sin. And yet whosoever believes in Jesus shall never die the real death - the death of the soul. We will all sleep, though.

The vision we have of reality is distorted by our emotions, warped by our sins, and, not surprisingly, twisted by our words. I say this is not surprising because God made the whole world with his word and we are made in his image. How we speak and what we say is of profound importance. I do not mean that we "make our own reality". But our heart does live in a reality created by our spiritual life - which last includes our words as well as our thoughts. So: if (in spite of our pious language) we speak as though someone were "Dead and gone" never more to be, just flat out dead - our heart grieves.

It needn't be so. We can know the life in which we stand. This is the Word of God speaking. We are in death. But Life, himself, says "this is sleep." Of another thing (speaking of the Eucharist) St Thomas has written:
Credo quidquid dixit Dei Filius;
Nil hoc verbo veritátis verius.
 - Aquinas
Translated thus:
I believe whate'er the Son of God hath told;
What the Truth hath spoken, that for truth I hold.
 - Pusey
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.
 - Hopkins
I prefer Hopkins' rendering even though Pusey's sings better. I will stick with it, "Truth himself speaks truth or there’s nothing true." This line is, I think the foundation of so very much. At RCIA class last week what I heard over and over is "Why do we do it this way? Because he (Jesus) said to." It may seem a bit simplistic. It may be, in fact, too little depth for many folks. But it is the truth. It is the only reason to do something.

In a world there there no truth at all it is refreshing to do something simply out of obedience, simply because of one's choice to submit to divine authority. I've been watching a lot of my friends for the last 8 or 9 years being unable to submit to anything but their own feelings. Thus, people who support them in their feelings are "right" and people who don't support them in their feelings are "haters". This is true on all sides of the political spectrum. There are those who claim to be Christians, even, who are falling for this emotivist reading of right and wrong. They like some parts of the Bible, but not others. They like some of the things Jesus has to say, but other bits are clearly delusional.

There is only one reason to stand with the outcast: because Jesus forbade us the luxury of enemies. And either the Truth speaks the truth or nothing at all is true.

Thing is if I accept this truth claim, I've also got to accept the rest... no divorce, no adultery, no lust in my heart, and this is truly his body, this is truly his precious blood. If I pick the items from the menu that I wish to believe, then, well... I might as well just go out and yell with the others. But if not, well, then: the child is not dead, she is only asleep.




30 January 2017

Dude, where'd ya get the fancy duds?

Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 11:32-40
  • Psalm 31:20-24 (Responsorial)
  • Luke 7:16 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 5:1-20

In the Douay, the RSV, or in the NABRE.

When they reached Jesus, they found the possessed man sitting there, clothed and restored to his wits, and they were overcome with fear.
Mark 5:15

This story is found in all three synoptics (Matthew 8 and Luke 8 as well). It was important in all the communities of the Church that gave us the inspired texts of Jesus' life. It tells the story of all of us, does it not?

Sin is the destruction of relationship. It starts with the loss of relationship with God, but in the end, abandoning all connection with others, the power of evil even destroys its own self. (For self can only exist in communion.) If our sins are lacks of charity, or lacks of chastity, lack of honesty or lack of courage, they all drive us away, eventually, from all communion, from all selfhood. It does not matter how it is set up: that's how it works. Even when we think our sins are making it easier for us to "relate" to people (drugs, sex, alcohol, etc) when we misuse the gifts God has given us we are not building, but rather tearing down.

And none of us has only one, let's be honest. One may be known as a great "Ladies' Man" or whatever term is useful for your sex and sexual preferences, but one is probably thus a liar, and prone to act uncharitably, to objectify women, to manipulate them. One may thus be ungenerous and greedy, one may be mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually abusive, one may even be a glutton and slothful. And all of these growing out of one's addiction to the hormonal rush that floods the brain at orgasm. One may be a thief and not the romantic bank-heist sort, but just the sort who plays on the internet at work: stealing time and money from one's employer. How trustworthy is that person in other areas? How duplicitous? None of this comes with a judgement: if you know me, I try only to discuss my own sins.

So we are all legion. And we are all the man possessed by Legion. And we are tormented by different voices within us, by demands that have nothing to do with "the one thing needful", and by desires that are not our own yet we are driven to fulfil. And if we come to him - even screaming and foaming at the mouth - Jesus will cast them out. I think of how many times I came to Jesus asking him to bless me in my sins, to find me a companion in my sin. One addict would love to live with another, right? But as there is no honor among thieves, so, too, other sins eventually are their own destruction.


And as in our story, the locals around us are just freaking terrified of what has happened - the swine (symbols of impurity in the Jewish world) run away, the swineherds (think teachers of heresy and impurity) run away, then the townspeople - all of whom, like all of us, have their own legions - beg Jesus to leave. Jesus is really good when he's needed for your politics. He's useful as a political punchline for both the left and the right yet please don't force his morals on me. "Go and sin no more" is a difficult commandment. And healing some sinner somewhere near me means only that I look all the worse. Jesus go away. Not only do I not want your salvation - please don't save any of my peeps.

But when they come to toss out the troublemaker, they find the guy sitting there clothed and in his right mind. That means that Jesus has put everything back in the right order which is: God first. Others. Loving God and serving others becomes my desire. When things are restored, then I am in communion with God and with others, that is, I'm finally clothed and in my right mind. I have put on the new man and have had a metanoia. But wait! There's more!

So he embarked on the boat; and as he did so the man who had been possessed was eager to go with him, but Jesus would not give him leave; Go home to thy friends, he said, and tell them all that the Lord has done for thee, and what great mercy he shewed thee.
Mark 5:18-19

We have a job to do: we cannot sit at Jesus feet forever. We cannot go with him when he leaves. I may spend 1 hour (or 16-20 hours) in church every week, but that's nothing if I'm not preaching the Gospel - spreading the kingdom. I'm not serving God if all I'm doing is feeling safe from the world. I have to go and be the hands and feet of Christ in the world. I have to be doing the Love of God, preaching the advance of his kingdom.



29 January 2017

The Unveiling


Today's Readings:

  • Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13
  • Psalm 146:6-10 
  • 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
  • Matthew 5:1-12

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

The Lord, who protects the stranger, who defends orphan and widow, who overturns the counsel of the wicked!
Psalm 145:9 (146:9 in the MT) Knox

This Psalm is sung nearly every Sunday in the Slavic recensions of the Byzantine LIturgy. (On some Sundays it is replaced with the verses sung nearly every week in the Greek form.) Today it is the Responsorial in the Novos Ordo, and we are invited, in this Psalm - as in all the readings really - to consider what this might mean, that God protects the Stranger, defends the Orphan and Widow and overturns the counsel of the wicked.

Our Bible readings are overly full of descriptions of the good folks: humble, chaste, obedient, forgiving, loving. I remember a story of two (Orthodox) nuns visiting a parish. One of the members who was very opposed to traditional monastics in the "modern" world - a situation that many Orthodox and Roman Catholic readers will recognise - decided she did not like having these "moochers" in her parish hall and so she accused them - loudly - in front of others of stealing food. "See how they 'fast' by stealing our food!" One Nun stood there, quietly taking the yelling but not at all sure what was going on. The other Nun fell at the woman's feet and begged forgiveness of whatever had happened... this totally discombobulated the accuser, who ran from the room. In the eyes of the world, the accuser was defending the parish's property. In the eyes of the world the nuns are the stupid ones.

Another story: of the president of his parish council, who walked into his church one night and found a woman praying: she was dressed traditionally, in a shawl. His own wife wouldn't stoop to such chicanery. He walked up to the woman and yanked her shawl off, grabbing her hair as well. Her head jerked back with such force that the long hairpins holding up her bun actually punctured the skin of her neck! "Now maybe you will stop dressing like a Muslim." He said. And his wife smiled as they walked away. This was in 2016. In a modern and liberal Orthodox parish in a large city the USA. And I know she prays for him. And we all should: but I can't quite figure out how though, I add in all honesty and shame.

There are humans who are working to divide other humans one from the other. Yet there is only one source of such division: the Evil One. For Christ seeks the unity of all, with all, in all, and through all with the Holy Trinity. Today's readings are all about how to get there, how to enter that Divinely-Sourced unity.

Our Bible readings are overly full of descriptions of the good, of the process of salvation. It takes humility, forgiveness, love. It takes charity, and it takes hospitality. It takes stupidity in the eyes of the world - yet wisdom in the ways of God. The poor, the foolish, the weak, no less than the rich, the intelligent, and the strong, need salvation. But knowing that you are poor - and depend on others for your bread - that you are foolish - and depend on others for guidance - that you are weak - and depend on others for protection - means that you are ready to rely on God much quicker than others who vainly imagine themselves to be "self-made". It is hard to be humble when (in the eyes of the world) you're perfect in every way.

Where are the descriptions of the wicked? What can be said of the strong nation who won't care for its weakest, who won't feed its poorest, who won't welcome the stranger, the orphan, the widow - and all for very wise, worldly reasons? Even worse: what are we to say of the Christians who won't do those things directly, even though they say it is - or perhaps especially if they say it isn't - the place of the nation to do them? A nation of Christians would surely do such, but not only would they do such through the state, they would do so by their own hands. Surely?

And what of the nation that does exactly the reverse of all the commandments and in fact hinders their performance - again, all for very worldly-wise reasons? If they are hindering the work of Christians, whose work are they advancing?  Maybe we don't really need descriptions of those things - for they are all around us.

While there are humans who are working to divide other humans one from the other, there is only one source of such division: the Evil One. Christ seeks the unity of all, with all, in all, and through all with the Holy Trinity. Yes, any can reject this unity... any can run away... but there is no other unity, there is no other peace. You can work for this unity and peace even unbeknownst to yourself, but to consciously (or unconsciously) work against it, to knowingly turn human against human, to deny the image of God present in any person for any reason is an act of desecration.

Simply: you are doing the work of demons.

No matter why you think you are doing so, that is what you are doing.

And it cannot work to your salvation in fact, quite the reverse.

28 January 2017

Grab You Some Gumption!


Today's Readings:
  • Hebrews 11:1-2, 8-19
  • Mark 4:35-41
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE with other Mass Texts.

And he said to them: Why are you fearful? have you not faith yet? And they feared exceedingly: and they said one to another: Who is this (thinkest thou) that both wind and sea obey him?
Mark 4:40

Why are we fearful? Because these waves are higher than we are. Because the hellish winds are blowing. Because the Orange Man is scaring us. The Blue Bogie Lady is under the bed! The Evil Russians! The murderous Mohammedans! The gorgeous Gays! The pulchritudinous pink hat people... Damn, but we're a scared lot of fools ain't we?

Here's a story about my step-grandmother who lives in a very good part of town, surrounded by people in large houses and huge lawns. The last times I slept in her house (before and right after my Grandfather's death in 2002) I slept in the livingroom on the sofa and every time I came back in from smoking, as I did then, she asked me to make sure the door was locked. Because, she insisted, even in the daylight someone might come up and try the handle of the door and, were it unlocked, there is no telling what sort of havoc they might wreak. She insisted that she had heard the nob turn, softly and stealthily, from time to time, as someone unseen in the dark...

Fear. "Deilos" is the greek word here. It's not the same as the the second use of fear in this verse where the word is "Phobos". One means timidity - Strong's Greek says it means "lacking moral gumption". Give me that... Gumption. Awesome! Phobos, too, has a bad meaning, though has a good meaning as well: it's "fear of the Lord" which the Apostles show in the latter half of the verse. They stop being timid in the face of some rain and they grow some brass gumption; and then they show fear of the Lord.

Faith is not a recitation of doctrine. You cannot get faith by reciting the creed. Faith is the Essence of things Hoped for the substance of things unseen. It is the very reality our doctrine describes. So: which part of the Church's teaching don't you accept when you get all twisted with fear? If you believe that God has your life in your hands, if you believe that God is watching out for every hair on your head, every bird on the limb, every beat of the heart of the universe then... why are you fearful?

Fear makes for mountains of suckiness: why did Christians help Hitler? Because they were afraid he would beat them up if they didn't. So they helped him, and he stole their faith anyway and sent them to the camps. Why would it ever be otherwise?

Elsewhere the Bible says "perfect love casts out all fear" because the opposite of fear is not bravery, it is love. The opposite of love is not hate: it is fear. The barrier between these two - fear and love - is Courage, from the Latin "cor" meaning the heart. The opposite of courage is timidity, the lack of gumption. And I will suggest that - in the world where winds buffet the Barque of Peter, we must live our faith in love which will seem courageous in the eyes of the world - and even foolhardy.

Untimidly leaving our doors unlocked means we will let in terrorists for fear - phobos - of locking out Christ himself.

Leaving our wallets unlocked means we will give to drug addicts for fear of not giving to Christ himself.

Leaving our hearts unlocked means we might get hurt or taken advantage of for fear of not letting in Christ himself.

Listen: I know the boat is leaky. I know the winds are strong. I know the water splashes in from above even more than below. It feels to me too as if each successive wave will kill us. It seems as if even my own fellow passengers are helping the vessel to capsize.

Have you not faith yet? (Today's song comes in two flavors...)






27 January 2017

What would it take?


Today's readings:
  • Hebrews 10:32-39
  • Psalm 37:3-40 (Responsorial)
  • Matthew 11:25 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 4:26-34
In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised... But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and keep their souls.
Hebrews 10:35-36, 39

What will you stand? What is the last thing you are willing to give up before you give up?

Your political freedom curtailed?
Your economic freedom curtailed?
The loss of your "healthcare" rights?
The loss of your job?
The loss of your house?
The loss of your friends?
The loss of your internet access?
The loss of your credit cards?
The loss of your phone?
The loss of your stuff?
Will you sneak out to Mass if it's illegal?
Would you go to another parish if your parish became infected with Americanism?
Would you take in a priest or a nun in hiding?
Would you carry incriminating evidence? A rosary, a Bible?
Would you allow it in your house?
Could you watch your friends die?
Could you watch your family die?
Could you watch your friends apostasize?
Could you watch your family apostasize?
Could you stand to be turned in by your spouse?
Your children?
Your boss?
Would you forgive them and pray for them anyway?
Could you go without food?
Could you go without water?
Could you hide in the humid darkness in still terror while men look for you?
Could you preach in prison?
Could you witness to the truth even when people around you claiming to be Christian are worshipping the emperor?
Are you sure?
Even when you can't give up meat on Friday?
Or sit in Church longer than :55 on Sundays?
For real?

26 January 2017

More Light!

Today's readings:

  • Titus 1:1-5
  • Psalm 96:1-10 (Responsorial)
  • Psalm 119:105 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 4:21-25

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE

Alleluia: Lucerna pedibus meis verbum tuum, et lumen semitis meis.
A lamp to my feet is your word, a light to my path.

n the Hebrew and the Greek versions of the OT, the word for "word" is not the one meaning "preaching" but rather it is logos and d'var, meaning more like "thought". "The word of the Lord" is a statement about the metaphysical content rather than the literary content of the teaching. And, of course, Logos is also a title for the Second Person of the Trinity. I want to challenge us to move away from our overly-protestant yet secularized culture that focuses on text and meaning of the text and hear here a claim about Jesus, not the Bible:
A lamp to my feet is your Word.

I've been thinking, lately, about cycles. Caligula didn't pay much attention to Christians - we were a small sect. Rather nutty, we were, and we were probably scandalized by his excess. But there were not enough of us for him to pay any attention. Nero, however, had a city full of us. And he was unimpressed. Later things got better. Then things got worse, every 75 years or so. Then things got really good for a generation. Then sucky. Then it got really hard because we always had to know which emperor was a good guy, and which was a heretic. And that continued for like nearly a 1000 years! As well as annoyances from the Vikings, Vandals, Visigoths, etc.

Then the Mohammedans were killing us. And the Tartars (same thing). And then there was the Reformation or, if you will, the Deformation. And there was quite a lot of killing. And, it must be noted that politics in Russia - where there was no reformation - continued the practice of "You have to know which emperor is a good guy and which is a heretic." They are always behind the times. The English killed a lot of Christians. Oddly, claiming it was "in the name of Christ" by which they meant "Our monarch, Our money".

Then the French started to kill us. And then the Communists. And the Klan. And the Muslims again. And here we are. So: out of the last 2000 years, how long as the Church been unharried? Not a long time at all. And why are we so convinced it's over?

Yesterday I was blessed to hear the news that it is the intent of Catholic Charities of SF as well as the City of SF to ignore anti-immigrant rules initiated by the Feds. Well, cool. I hope such intent lasts. But how about you, personally? How about me? The next stage is set to be the making of a Database of all Muslim Persons? A whole lot of people (including myself) said we would register as Muslim just to gum up the works. But will we? Even if there is prison involved?

What's the right thing to do? Jesus, be the light for our feet!

I think we're coming to dark times. You know that if you've been reading my posts. I think people who are actually Christians will come under fire from people who hate Christians, but also from people who say they are Christians but are rather, as the Apostle says, "Of the Synagogue of Satan". At issue will be praying for the secular authorities - which we are commanded to do - but what if those authorities command us things contrary to the Law of God? Well, then: Christians will have trouble. But what if the alternatives offered are also contrary to the Law of God? Well, then, we'll be up a creek.

We now live in yet another era when realpolitik trumps religious faith so often, we think "just doing a little evil for greater good is ok..." Paul says no, that's not the case at all. Christ is the King - full stop. This is why, I think, in an era of Nero, Caligula, and other such awesome rulers, St Paul said things like today: "I'm a slave of God". And (in the alternative first reading for today, from 1 Timothy) "So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord" Jesus says, "Is a lamp brought in to be placed under a bushel basket or under a bed, and not to be placed on a lampstand?"

Who is the heretic and who is the good guy? Jesus, light our way! We have to let our light shine so that they will more-easily see where our heads are for chopping...






24 January 2017

Plenty of Room


Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 10:1-10
  • Psalm 40:2-11 (Responsorial)
  • Matthew 11:25 (Alleluia)
  • Mark 3:31-35

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE.

Then Jesus looked about at those who were sitting around him, and said, Here are my mother and my brethren! If anyone does the will of God, he is my brother, and sister, and mother.
Mark 3:34-35 (Knox)

When I was a freshman in college, in the Spring of 1983, I went on an Episcopal Regional Youth retreat (Region II was, then anyway, all of NY and NJ plus Haiti), led by the woman who would (later) be a prominent seminary professor and other things to other people. She's a teacher through and through: engaging and engaged and loving in delivery. On her first night she spoke on this passage, a talk she called "Family in the New Creation" and it was (and still is) a bit of a shaker for me: a formative moment. It become a touchstone of my  understanding of self. Perhaps not surprisingly, given the source, it's not very (o)rthodox. It's certainly not (O)rthodox. Yet, in today's Protestant world, it would seem trite, conservative even. It would also seem that way in today's moral climate, I think.

I won't trouble you with some of the more scandalous stuff, although you can fill in the gaps if you know me well enough. There are two points I still find important: one gets two thumbs up and one gets one thumb down and one thumb up. Since the latter is, in fact, the foundation of the whole thing I'll do it first:

Her main point was in this passage Jesus is dissing his biological family for a different understanding of family - one that is now our only concern - this "Family of the New Creation." She worked really hard at explaining this to us - the whole rest of the talk was bulletpoints about what the Old Creation Family looked like versus the New Creation Family. And: I agree about 50% with this claim. Jesus was making a claim about what family is to become in his Church. Yet he was not dissing his biological family to do it - at least not enough that we can say, "Ah ,forget about that old fashioned stuff."

Jesus wasn't destroying the old family: he was expanding it.

Which brings me to her second point (two thumbs up): Jesus and St Paul would not have understood our concept of the "Nuclear Family". Then she added (verbatim): "Nuclear family. Nuclear arms. As far as I'm concerned they're both just as deadly."

According to Byzantine and Latin tradition, the Holy Family of Nazareth was what we would call, today, a Blended Family. Joseph was a widower, he had sons and daughters already - many of whom figure into the Gospel and Apostolic storylines. James, at least, was old enough at Jesus' birth, to be thinking of marriage. Mary may have come into Joseph's house with her elderly mother, Anna. This is the family Jesus knew from his earliest age. When Joseph died, James would have become head of the house, and Mary the Matriarch. It's quite different from "Mom, Dad, Buddy, and Sis" aka Ward and June Cleaver.  It's more like the way the Bunkers got in later years - when the kids lived next door, with the baby, or like the Waltons. The Jews were Tribal: even in Jesus' day, the concept of an entire town of family (Bethlehem, or Nazareth) was not alien.

For us, today, with our Nuclear (or, Nukuler) families, our limited scope... even this tribal idea must seem exotic. But Jesus expanded it to include the entire Church. When we say "brother" and "sister" here, it's not just warm fuzzies. It's meant to be a truth. The Body of Christ is the Quantum Family. Yet it is hard for us today to find our communities in the Church: we have our kids' school obligations, and our work functions. We have political things, perhaps, or neighborhood social drives. Thing is, at one time, all of these were Church. The Community was the Church: the Church was the Community.

When I dream of community it looks like, at least, Jesus' family which he has opened up to include all of us. My family had five generations of sisters, brothers, spouses, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, cousins and so on, all in one small town in upstate New York. There's a way to feel safe! Thing was: we were not the only family to be that way in that town. Nor are we now - but I'm not there (nor my parents). That's what's so strange about today's world: we are all spaced out, all over the world. Many of the Orthodox and Catholic folks I know live nowhere near their families (who may or may not be in the same faith).

So how do we recover this sense of all-in? There are places that do this, there are Orthodox and Catholic urban communities forming in places (Alaska, Oklahoma, Kansas, Toronto), places where people come together either in common housing or, at least, common neighborhoods. How are we to make this present now? I fear it becomes harder and harder, and, at the same time, more and more important.

Today is the Feast of St Francis de Sales. St Francis has become important to me, in learning about daily meditation in the Roman Catholic tradition.  I'm no where near acquainted with him enough to say anything in depth about him: but practice make perfect. I will end this post with a motto of his - which is, I think, the source of any real community, so it is also a prayer:

Live Jesus!






23 January 2017

Well, A Huge Percentage of Men...


Today's readings

  • Hebrews 9:15, 24-28
  • Psalm 98:1-6 (Responsorial)
  • 2 Timothy 1:10  (Alleluia)
  • Mark 3:22-30

In the Douay, the RSV, or the NABRE

How can it be Satan who casts Satan out? Why, if a kingdom is at war with itself, that kingdom cannot stand firm, and if a household is at war with itself, that household cannot stand firm; if Satan, then, has risen up in arms against Satan, he is at war with himself; he cannot stand firm; his end has come.
Mark 3:23b-26

I want to return today, to the 15 Petitions of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.  I think the next two go together in a way, and they also address a pattern I'm seeing.
For our five senses, that the things we see, the music we hear, the food and drink we eat, and the encounters we have through touch may all be pure and holy.
For our sensuality, that our impulses may not be captivated by base pleasures, but freed by wisdom and inflamed for what is good. 
These prayer intentions ask for the same quality of purity, just one is external (physical senses) and the other is internal (impulses). Our culture is designed to undermine the first - so that the second falls away unnoticed.

I like to cook - in fact, I love to cook. The more I learn, the more want to whip up stuff and share it. That's the virtue of hospitality, I know, but it makes me a foodie of sorts - I indulge in food. And, really, I lead others to such indulgences, too. During the essentially vegan fasting periods of the Byzantine tradition, I got to be quite good at whipping up amazing vegan indulgences: mainstays of my cooking repertoire that were so good, I'd cooking in the other parts of the year as well.

When I joined the Orthodox Western Rite I was to adhere to the Western tradition of fasting: actually abstaining from food. In the West, throughout all of Lent (Sundays excepted), the tradition was for one meal a day - no meat, of course (fish is ok) but that meal, itself, should be smaller than a normal meal. And then another meal was allowed, called "a collation". Think of this as a salad. A small house salad. This rule obtains on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays in Advent. As well as a few other places in the Western Calendar. I'm sorry, but: one meal a day - smaller than normal - and a salad... does not lend itself, too easily, to flight of fancy cookery. To be honest, at the monastery, I was allowed to whip up stuff for guests. Yet, over all, I found my sense of "abstinence" to be heightened in this pattern, as compared to what our Archbishop referred to as "Fasting Sumptuously" during Lent at my home parish.

Fasting is supposed to be about saying "no" to our bodies. This was not something I was able to do very well on a three-vegan-meals-a-day pattern. That was not the fault of the rules: just my own weakness. To break my own habitual weakness, I had to stop eating. This is the pattern in our culture. We over indulge. And we do it in all areas.

What has any of this to do with the Bible verses above about a house divided against itself? It is related in two very different ways.

As far as our struggle goes for chaste purity goes in the context of the Angelic Warfare prayers, as well as in places like S.A. and Courage, being mindful of our physical actions - food, music, and touch, as well as things we see - and our mental actions (our impulses) is very important. Learning to say no to the desire for a specific tasty treat, or to just deal with the cold instead of adding a few extra layers, to go hungry for a meal, to skip, even, a shower now and then... these are all ways to work against our bodies' desires. Aleister Crowley, the infamous occultist of the early 20th century, knew that to deny the body was to train one to chastity. So - contra - he taught that one should "do what thou wilt" and wrote, "Behold! these be grave mysteries; for there are also of my friends who be hermits. Now think not to find them in the forest or on the mountain; but in beds of purple, caressed...there shall ye find them." I feel that I am such a hermit, buying nice clothes and new shoes being stingy with my money when someone needs it way more than I do, indulging my "not really sinful" desires all the time, but finding myself unable to say no to the "really sinful" ones when push comes to shove.

Saying no to our impulses, saying no to our body: this is the way of the saints. We cut off half of the evil one's house when we turn our body and our mind against him.

There is, however, another way that these prayers touch on these Gospel verses.

Sunday there was a huge protest all over the world against the new President of the US. It was sort of the Mirror Anti-image of the Dancing in the Streets and the Nobel Prize that happened after the last President was first elected. I've read several disclaimers on FB about how the new president is not at all like all men and that such crudity and lewdness is not part of the life of every man. And I am reasonably sure that folks are honest and believe what they write.

Contrariwise, there are these interesting graphics clipped from a Canadian website about Tech Addiction:



And the big one:

This - especially this last one - is how a lewd, crude person got elected to the White House. Protests aside, the culture that celebrates sexual experimentation, untrammeled libertinism, and abortion is the same culture that would elect such a man. (I read somewhere that 1/3rd of the Millennial Generation is missing because of Abortion. Yup: their parents are perfectly set up for this Administration.) In other words: the recent protests were impotent because a house divided against itself cannot stand. Since they come from the same source, culturally, they are, ultimately, promoting the same ends.

I'm no fan of the current occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave; and yet, near as I can tell, the main differences between him and me are 1) that I don't live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave and 2) he's had 20 more years than I to perfect his game. He mirrors our passions perfectly. He fails only in that he fails to mask them. He not only unmasks America politically, he also unmasks us morally. If he frequented the same bars that I did and had the same attraction to members of his own sex, his sexually predatory language would be the stuff of fantasy recordings. He could write for most adult companies (gay and straight) that I won't link to. And if any member of any AltSex community denies it, they are using alternative facts. Please, don't get me started on consensuality, sexual trafficking, and internet porn.

Look: I know I helped build this culture. I am all too aware of every action I took - political action, financial choice, cultural preferences - of every brick I cemented into place. I am surprised by the outcome, but I am neither shocked nor morally indignant about it. Dominos fall, if they are set up right, until none are left standing. You pull one string out of the moral tapestry and the rest are sure to follow. This is why I left my liberal, mainline churches who teach now much the same as Crowley.

The best way to avoid all the scary stuff people were protesting against this weekend, is to avoid all the scary stuff that people were protesting for this weekend. All of it. The only way forward (cuz we can keep going backwards easily) is to say no to our impulses, to deny our physical and mental addictions to pleasure and to strive to build a culture that is both honest about its problems and working to fix them rather than denying that they are problems at all.

Here's this Vid as a closing meditation.




22 January 2017

Monsters under the Bed


Today's Readings:

  • Isaiah 8:23-9:3
  • Psalms 27:1-14 (Responsorial)
  • 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 17
  • Matthew 4:12-23

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

The Lord is my light and my deliverance; whom have I to fear? The Lord watches over my life; whom shall I hold in dread?
Psalm 27:1

On their awesome, live album, How the West was One, (Myrrh, 1977) the 2nd Chapter of Acts Annie Herring shares her story of being afraid, as a young child, of monsters under her bed at night. And she was terrified that if even one tiny bit of finger leaned off the bed, the monster would eat it. She was sure that when she grew up it would go away... thing is, fears don't just go away. They come from outside of us. This story always struck me, because even in my 30s I was afraid of very stupid things - the dark, walking alone in a strange place, certain neighborhoods. I've learned there are really two ways to deal with these fears: one involves turning them over to Jesus - and then walking through the fears. The other involves surrounding yourself with friends - and then walking through the fears. I've learned the fears never go away until you walk through them. It's best if the friends are Christian friends...

About 3 years ago? 4? Anway... I went on a coffee date. We stopped on the corner of Market and 5th because I had an errand to run: taking delivery of my first set of bifocals! While we were inside "Site for Sore Eyes" an event happened. The annual West Coast March for Life went down the street. They tend to be a quiet lot: a lot of praying, some singing. The louder noise comes from the sidelines. My companion turned to me and said, "There go the best candidates for genocide." So, ending the date a bit early, I crossed someone off my list. And forgot about the annual West Coast Walk for Life.

But his words keep ringing in my ears: there go the best candidates for genocide. Why would any sane human say such things: and him a peaceful sort, and an artist, and, by chance, a Jewish person rather proud of his Jewishness. They know the meaning of genocide. How did pro-lifers become candidates for, let's call it, die Endlösung?

Equally annoying now, today, is the assumption (found on left or right) that anyone who is pro-life must support the current president. That may be if, by pro-life, you mean only "pro-foetus". Pro-life addresses so much more: peace, the death penalty, healthcare, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing those who seek shelter, just wages, just work, just social policies, support for adoption, support of proper education, support for immigrants and refugees. This is pro-life in the Catholic (which means "whole") sense: celebrating and rescuing the divine dignity present in each human life. But Pro-lifers are not allowed to play in all those other Reindeer Games because we are also opposed to denying the blessings of life to the unborn.

I'm over 50 now, I'm allowed to have opinions on things and trust my friends to be adult about it. But there are still monsters under the bed. I've heard stories, recently, about how reactive San Franciscans had become, yet it's not just San Franciscans, it's pretty much everyone in America: left and right, they want to beat the crap out of people that disagree, or fire them, or run them out of town on the rails. Everyone is human. Everyone. Humans are primates - and all primates are territorial. Watching the left get really excited about a man getting sucker punched on the internet yesterday nearly made me go register for the GOP, but I know the right would get really excited about the same thing if the victim was, say, the president of Planned Parenthood. That's where we are in this country: I'm 100% Correct and you're worth beating up.

So this seemed like the year some nut might try to make a few martyrs.  And I wanted to be there by way of atonement and reparation, if nothing else. As it turns out all I did was keep a man carrying a banner from tripping in a small pothole. I did, however, walk the full length of the route with the Dominicans of the Western Province, and pray the rosary. That was awesome! Prayer is communion: in the quiet places on Market, the parts of the financial district where there are no people on the weekends, there was this gentle rumble, "Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen." At the end of each decade, the refrain from the Lourdes Hymn was sung. "Ave, Ave, Ave, Maria!" And it felt like I'd known that song forever... which I have, really: that's the Song of Bernadette.


Yet more importantly I wanted to walk: to not be afraid to have an unpopular opinion. I wanted to put into play something that I believe deeply, that humanness starts at conception and never ends. That all of life, from conception to natural death and beyond, is the synergistic dance of the soul and God, and it's not our place to stop, to drop out of, or to take someone else out of that dance. I'm living, experiential proof that silence is consent - by the number of folks who just assume I agree with them and never asked. But then I never offered. I wanted to walk because, increasingly, it felt like not walking was denying my faith. How can the light shine in the Galilee of the Gentiles if we, who say we follow Jesus, keep hiding out?

It was fear that kept me from saying so: Fear that keeps me, even now, worried about consequences of posting things like this. I may have walked right by my office singing the Lourdes hymn (albeit on a weekend) but this is on the internet. My one time being internet famous in this century was enough for me. Fear, though (I can talk about pride later) is my big bugaboo. Annie says God will help me with my fear, but as I noted, you still have to walk through your fears to face them. So I did.







It should start with "He is my light".
If the video doesn't start in the right place (33:47), click here

20 January 2017

Orange Friday


Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 8:6-13
  • Psalm 85:8-14
  • Mark 3:13-19

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

Alleluia: God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.

It seems correct today to comment on recent and forth-coming events in the National Life of the United States.  It seems, also, that the Alleluia verse today invites us to such conversation.

I, personally, have little to no doubt that the socio-political status of several groups in the USA is about to change. Some will go up, some will go down. What else I know is it has ever been such at times of national change. What I don't know is the veracity of various predicted changes. Our incoming glorious leader has shown himself to be mercurial at the least, regarding those in favour and those out of favour. I think about the man as I once felt about my boss, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church: those around him are more troublesome than the man himself. And because he is loyal, he will believe no ill of his friends nor good of his enemies. Yet because he is selfish, ultimately we won't be able to predict his friendships from day to day. Silos of power will be constructed, people of good faith will fall ill of power from day to day, and things will generally suck. Not because of the policies of the man but because of the personality of him.

So what's a Christian to do?

St Paul would tell us, speaking from the experience of Caligula and Nero, that we must pray for our leaders, and that by name and in firm charity and peace.

And, mindful of our Alleluia, we must be ministers of God's reconciliation.

That does not mean cooperation with the Government, nor does it mean peaceful coexistence with injustice. It does mean living out the Gospel 24/7/365. Our government and much of the world functions in a zero-sum, divide and rule sort of game. Our faith is all in: Love. Apart from the book of Revelation (and that only if some readings are correct) you will find no Christian text speaking evil of the Emperor. This is telling. The Christians of Rome seemed to treat the person in front of them as God's icon for veneration, and the person not in front of them - including the Emperor - as next in line for veneration. It is this attitude that most becomes us as followers of the Man who gave his life for three murderers on Good Friday: as ransom (for Barabbas), as fellow victim of Roman political oppression (with the "wise thief"), and as fellow sacrifice for Roman justice (with the "evil thief").

We are to stand where we are and, mindful of the road to Calvary and the missions of Paul, walk where we are led, serving all those who come before us as if they were Christ, himself, because they are.

This could mean washing the feet of homeless one day and serving a meal to rich people the next, praying with people who voted for and against what has come to pass, and trusting God that we get what we need to work out our salvation; mindful of one thing: no matter who your family, race, or religion were before, be they rich white power people, or poor people of color, Christian martyrs or Jewish Holocaust victims... It is you, now, who is working out your salvation, not them.

Pray.

Do the right thing.

Pray again.

Repeat.

This is all that is asked of us, and all that we can do.

Do not forget: Faithful Christians can never afford to settle for merely earthly ideas of justice (which are most often just legalized revenge) - for we are all equally condemned and all equally saved. Our only choice is the living out of one or the other. No matter who stands before us, until he stands condemned before the Great Judge, it is your job to get him saved, to minister divine reconciliation to him and all with him. And to love him. Full stop.

Repeat.

19 January 2017

Revealing the Truth


Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 7:25-8:6
  • Psalm 40:7-17
  • 2 Timothy 1:10
  • Mark 3:7-12

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

And I told the story of thy just dealings before a great throng; be witness, Lord, that I do not seal my lips.
Psalm 39:10 (40:10 MT) Knox

Last Saturday the Men's Club at St Dominic's Catholic Church had the annual Spaghetti Feast. When I think of Catholicism in America, I - since I'm a white European sort of person - naturally think of Italians and Irish. (Of course at one time my own ancestral England was Catholic - another story another time.) And so it will not surprise you, I think, to think of such a meal in a Catholic Church basement. There was a live band playing the theme from Godfather! And a lot of Tony Bennett and Frank Sinatra. At one point Fr H got up and sang "That's Amore". You know it's a Catholic Church when the Irish Priest is singing Italian songs at a Spaghetti dinner! It's about the most Roman Catholic I've ever felt (and I'm not even one).

I have long been fascinated with two Eastern Religions: China's Taoism and Japan's Shintoism. Something about both of these feels, to me, very Orthodox, very Catholic. I cannot yet put my finger on it, but it's there. On a computer I used to own (with Win 2K) the image above, of some Shinto Shrine, used to come up from time to time as the desktop Wallpaper. I can get lost in such images, imagining the the Mass or Divine Liturgy being served in such a place. There is, of course, something Not Christian there, too. But it seems more Paleolithic: Pre-Christian rather than Anti-Christian. The same is true of Taoism for me. I keep close at hand a copy of Cheng Man-Ching's "My Words are Very Easy to Understand", an interlinear Tao Te Ching with commentary. And the I Ching, as well, as a meditative text. Again: not as objective things, in and of themselves, but something true about them, something there that points...

Pointing to Jesus. Really.

What Knox calls the "Great Throng", the NABRE says is the "Vast Assembly". The RSV gets a bit more traditional and calls it the Great Congregation (language I'm used to). The Douay says it's a Great Church.  The Vulgate could mean that, when it says Ecclesia Magna which does follow the Greek, ἐκκλησίᾳ μεγάλῃ Ekklesia Megale. And this last does mirror the Hebrew קָהָ֥ל רָֽב Qahal Rav. To be honest, I think the modern "assembly" and "throng" miss the point. This isn't everyone: rather it's a certain subset of everyone. Qahal, ἐκκλησίᾳ, Ecclesia, and in English, Church, all carry the sense of "called" or, better, called out. Called out of what? why, everything, everywhere. The Catholic Teaching is now and has always been as St Justin the Philosopher said in the 2nd Century:
But lest some should, without reason, and for the perversion of what we teach, maintain that we say that Christ was born one hundred and fifty years ago under Cyrenius, and subsequently, in the time of Pontius Pilate, taught what we say He taught; and should cry out against us as though all men who were born before Him were irresponsible — let us anticipate and solve the difficulty. We have been taught that Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers; and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them; and among the barbarians, Abraham, and Ananias, and Azarias, and Misael, and Elias, and many others whose actions and names we now decline to recount, because we know it would be tedious. So that even they who lived before Christ, and lived without reason, were wicked and hostile to Christ, and slew those who lived reasonably. But who, through the power of the Word, according to the will of God the Father and Lord of all, He was born of a virgin as a man, and was named Jesus, and was crucified, and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, an intelligent man will be able to comprehend from what has been already so largely said. 
Justin says I don't want you to think that Christianity imagines that the rest of the world is going to hell in a handbasket: Just because Jesus was born 150 years ago doesn't mean that all the world before (and much of it since) is lost.  Christ is the first-born of God, and we have declared above that He is the Word of whom every race of men were partakers... That is to say that the Seeds of Christ are in all the world. ...and those who lived reasonably are Christians, even though they have been thought atheists; as, among the Greeks, Socrates and Heraclitus, and men like them... The word translated "Reasonably" several times in this passage is "according to the Logos" meaning, the word of God, those who live According to Jesus even without knowing it.

I've said it before and it's worth saying again: Since Jesus is The Truth, then All Truth is Jesus.  In each culture, around every human hearth, there is an "Old Testament" waiting to be fulfilled. The Gospel will find a way - it has nothing to do with Making Americans into Russians or Greeks. It has nothing to do with making the Japanese into Russians, or the Mayans into Greeks. It has nothing to do with making those of us of Western European Descent into Arabs or what have you.  But for a long time - in the East and the West - it has had to do with exactly that. The truth of the Gospel was not exported without a culture, without colonialism.  The Apostles ruled against such a thing in Acts - Gentiles do not have to become Jews first before they can become Christians; nor does Our Lady of Guadalupe need to be dressed up in Roman robes and blond hair.

In Jesus' day, a large number of people came to him also from Jerusalem,  from Idumea, from beyond the Jordan,  and from the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. He told his disciples to have a boat ready for him because of the crowd, so that they would not crush him.

Now we have the whole world, the Great Church. The Gospel transcends race and culture as surely as God transcends time and space.  Our Job, as evangelists, is to declare the Gospel in the community of all people called out from the world. We won't make them Latins, Jews, or Greeks: rather if we let the Gospel Light shine fully they will see it and become more fully Japanese, more holistically Chinese, more illuminated Mayans: Humans as they are supposed to be, fully able to be who they are in God's image without losing their heritage in some great Mediterranean soup or American Melting Pot. (There's nothing wrong with those last two save that we can't equate the cultures with the Gospel.)

If we are to declare God's word in the Great Congregation: how can we open up to the the languages and places of worship... the Unknown Gods that prefigure the Truth?


17 January 2017

The House of Playballs

Today's Readings:

  • Hebrews 6:10-20
  • Mark 2:23-28

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

God is not an unjust God, that he should forget all you have done, all the charity you have shewn in his name, you who have ministered, and still minister, to the needs of his saints. But our great longing is, to see you all shewing the same eagerness right up to the end, looking forward to the fulfilment of your hope; listless no more, but followers of all those whose faith and patience are to bring them into possession of the good things promised them.
Hebrews 6:10-12

The comic from XKCD (above) is where I wanna start. Click to embiggen, or click through to see it in it's native habitat.
That sounds good, right? Until, of course, you realize that the real definition of "Grownup" is relative - not meaning "I can make it up" but, rather, there has to be some children around for me to be the Grownup. When you become a parent, you become an adult really fast. But we live in a world where we want to make stuff up. "We don't like your silly rules. We're going to do it our way." I like to call it special-case devolution. Darwinism is nearly in a class with Divine Revelation: but we don't think it applies to us. We are happy to regress ourselves into a perpetual, multi-generational childhood as if the rest of the human race wasn't gunning for our American place at the top of the food chain. But we've begun infecting others with our sickness. Europe has succumbed, along with parts of Central and Southern America, all of Canada... we can do whatever we want and no one makes the rules.

Yesterday there was the Dominical quote about "New Wine in Old Wineskins". Today's quote is "the Sabbath is made for Man, not Man for the Sabbath." Both of these quotes get used by the Inovationists to mean that we can toss out the tradition, that we can ignore the moral teachings, that we can, essentially, be whatever we want and call it "Christian" without, really, being Christian. Then they turn around and wonder why no one wants to come to their churches, where they pass out warm blankets and sing facing each other (because God is invisible, right?)... but with no content, no doctrine, no moral code. And no backbone. (Let's read the Koran in Church, ok?)

Jesus, however, was saying "I'm God and I'm here to tell you what all this means" not, "Toss out tradition and do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law." We have to keep following "all those whose faith and patience are to bring them into possession of the good things promised them." If we see that St Paul and Jesus, Mary and Joseph, St Francis of Assisi and St Raphael of Brooklyn all walked this way... we have to walk that way, too; else we're going some other place.

A couple of days ago I posted about that defeated feeling of "What time have I wasted and God has done nothing with me yet?" Today St Paul counters, teaching God will not forget our works in his name but they are not enough: he wants us to press on, "shewing the same eagerness right up to the end." Gosh, but that's annoying. It never stops: this struggle, this constant battle, this on-going fight against all my lesser energies, my evil thoughts, words, and deeds.

The hardest time for me is Sunday afternoon. I spend all week in work and prayer, I have chores on Saturday (so that I don't waste the time on Sunday) and then the gathering of the faithful, and communion with the Body and Blood of Jesus. Then boom. I'm home. Resting. Looking at the ceiling. And wondering how best to get in trouble - but not too much trouble. This past Sunday, before and after Mass, I walked: 7.5 miles over the course of the day. And I was exhausted. So there was a nap. Douglas Adams gets this so completely:
In the end, it was the Sunday afternoons he couldn't cope with, and that terrible listlessness which starts to set in at about 2:55, when you know that you've had all the baths you can usefully have that day, that however hard you stare at any given paragraph in the papers you will never actually read it, or use the revolutionary new pruning technique it describes, and that as you stare at the clock the hands will move relentlessly on to four o'clock, and you will enter the long dark teatime of the soul.
(From the book, The Long Dark Teatime of the Soul)
So, there I was, waiting and you know it happened. The inevitable stumble and fall and quite suddenly it was midnight - midnight! - and I was still trying to play catch-up with all the things I had intended to do.

Our Hope... this hope in salvation. Gah. Ignore what the doubters say, the detractors, and the people with their cheap grace. Salvation is not pie in the sky by and by when you die: it's this crappy work right now. It's remembering to turn the damned computer off and stand up and pray. This is why I have alarms set on my phone to make me do that. They play church bells, but really I've got my Nexus programmed to say "Listless no more!" The fall, despite what I said above, is NOT inevitable. We have to choose to fall.

"Every saint has a past. Every sinner has a future." That's what Pope Francis has said. It's so platitudinous so you might miss the real content. St Mary of Egypt says this...
Believe me, Abba, seventeen years I passed in this desert fighting wild beasts -- mad desires and passions. When I was about to partake of food, I used to begin to regret the meat and fish which of which I had so much in Egypt. I regretted also not having wine which I loved so much. for I drank a lot of wine when I lived in the world, while here I had not even water. I used to burn and succumb with thirst. The mad desire for profligate songs also entered me and confused me greatly, edging me on to sing satanic songs which I had learned once. But when such desires entered me I struck myself on the breast and reminded myself of the vow which I had made, when going into the desert. In my thoughts I returned to the ikon of the Mother of God which had received me and to her I cried in prayer. I implored her to chase away the thoughts to which my miserable soul was succumbing. And after weeping for long and beating my breast I used to see light at last which seemed to shine on me from everywhere. And after the violent storm, lasting calm descended. 
And how can I tell you about the thoughts which urged me on to fornication, how can I express them to you, Abba? A fire was kindled in my miserable heart which seemed to burn me up completely and to awake in me a thirst for embraces. As soon as this craving came to me, I flung myself on the earth and watered it with my tears, as if I saw before me my witness, who had appeared to me in my disobedience, and who seemed to threaten punishment for the crime. And I did not rise from the ground (sometimes I lay thus prostrate for a day and a night) until a calm and sweet light descended and enlightened me and chased away the thoughts that possessed me. But always I turned to the eyes of my mind to my Protectress, asking her to extend help to one who was sinking fast in the waves of the desert. And I always had her as my Helper and the Accepter of my repentance. And thus I lived for seventeen years amid constant dangers. And since then even till now the Mother of God helps me in everything and leads me as it were by the hand.
We can press on. Let the silly people fill their churches with playballs. Let the world fall apart - it's done that several times since Jesus left here. But it's never to late to stand up one more time, to kneel down one more time. And to press forward one more time, following Saint Mary and "all those whose faith and patience are to bring them into possession of the good things promised them."


16 January 2017

The New Punic War



The Church in Russia views Moscow as "The Third Rome". It's been this way for a while. Rome was Rome, but then Rome fell - and there was a filioque, but lay that aside as gently as you can. Then Constantinople was Rome, and the heathen Rus even tried to sack it. But then it fell to the Muslims. (Istanbul is Constantinople, don't you know that?) So Moscow became the Third Rome, but history has poo-pooed that as a political reality. See, the West kinda glommed onto it: Charlemagne, the Holy Romans, Napoleon, the British Empire, and last, the good ole US of A, all took this place on the World Stage. And, even as Moscow fell, and her Church as well, to the Revolution, various other places became Novus Roma: In Tempore Bello. Perhaps Moscow has watched all of us like Carthage, wandering about with Elephants, ruining her place in the Sun?

Boom.Rip.

Today's Readings:

  • Hebrews 5:1-10
  • Mark 2:18-22

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

Alleluia: Vivus est sermo Dei et efficax, et discretor cogitationum et intentionum.
Alleluia: The word of God is living and effective, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart.
From: Hebrews 4:12

The Alleluia verse is my text today mostly because I missed it when it came up in the regular readings last week.

Coming from a Protestant background I'm used to hearing this verse often (especially in the King James version) as a comment on the "inerrancy" and "inspiration" of the Biblical text.
For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 
"Quick" in the KJV's language means "alive" but this is often lost on prot Preachers. It translates the word Zoe, the title Jesus takes to himself saying, I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life (Zoe). This text, in Greek, is:

Ζῶν γὰρ ὁ λόγος τοῦ θεοῦ , καὶ ἐνεργής.
"Living is The Logos of God, and energetic."

The next verse makes much more sense if this is about a person rather than a book:
Neither is there any creature invisible in his sight: but all things are naked and open to his eyes, to whom our speech is
So it is Jesus (God's Logos) about whom St Paul writes here. It is Jesus that is Life indeed, and Energetic. It is Jesus that is "more piercing than any two edged sword; and reaching unto the division of the soul and the spirit, of the joints also and the marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart." Nothing is hidden from him and we are all open to his eyes.

Jesus: not the flat, hardbound green things the Gideons leave in empty hotel rooms in the hopes that it might magically convert someone. Jesus is the Infallible, Inerrant Word of God.

If I could only get that into my head and my heart I might be able to live the Gospel.

You cannot pour the new wine of the Gospel into your old life: you can't hold the Gospel and keep being your old self. You can't so a Jesus patch onto your old, tired Identity Politics, false humanist idea of sex and sexuality, modernist ideas of amorality and tolerance: the wineskins burst, the clothes tear. This is what is currently happening in the liberal Protestant bodies, trying to hold on to their favorite parts of the World and molding the Gospel thereto. Even now, they imagine that they can take the Gospel and pour it into the tired, old sins of the world

Boom.

Rip.

Like the woman bleeding for decades, the only way to find healing is for them and me to come back to Jesus.



15 January 2017

God's Secret Weapon



Today's readings
  • Isaiah 49:3-6
  • 1 Corinthians 1:1-3
  • John 1:29-34

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

Et ego dixi: In vacuum laboravi; sine causa et vane fortitudinem meam consumpsi.
To me, all my labour seemed useless, my strength worn out in vain.
Isaiah 49:4a

This verse is missing from the assigned readings today. It's actually pretty Prophetic of that Eloi, Eloi, moment on the cross, I think. More though, how much I recognize this sentiment, how much it sounds like life sometimes. The Psalms are filled with this, as are the Wisdom books: sometimes stuff just sucks. Worse than that, it feels like nothing makes sense, like nothing you've done is of value.

Yesterday (Saturday) was the anniversary of an event in my personal life that totally wrecked my well-under-way midlife crises. Being laid off from a good job in a wonderful company, finding oneself alone and drifting can point out a lot of things: a lot of failures in life planning. The big one for me was the realization of how much of my self identity was invested in work. What I did for money held a lot of my sense of "Who I Am." The loss of my Job felt like a loss of my Me. To go with Isaiah, here, "To me, all my labour seemed useless, my strength worn out in vain."

I'm told that for men, this investment of self, this submersion of identity in work is a real problem. I can imagine, though, it might be so for women as well. Thus the drive for women to be able to do the same work as men, right? It's founded not on a quest for equality as such, but rather on a greed for equal cultural capital in a culture that invented and sells that mistake of you-are-what-you-do.

If my things-done are are without value who am I?

In this mindset I took great comfort in podcasts from my friend and from this guy I follow on Twitter, both named Steve. Both of them reminded me that it is in working out my salvation that I live out my faith, not in standing around waiting for God to reveal his plan for my life. In fact both Steves suggested that was a Protestant, Prosperity thing that had nothing to do with anything Christian. There was this one, on Mediocrity, and then these two on the whole "plan for your life" thing (wait for it).

In the Hobbit (the Book), Bard the Bowman has a secret weapon called "The Black Arrow" which never misses its mark and always is found again. Bard uses the Black Arrow to slay the Dragon Smaug - its fated destiny. I'm sure in the horrid Peter Jackson Blasphemy, Bard had, perhaps, a trident warhead and maybe shot it from a large tank. Here's the way it looked the first time I was ever introduced to Tolkien's work (1977)



Isaiah is right there, ready for the punchline. In Verse 2 of the same chapter, the prophet sees himself as "a arrow he has chosen out carefully, hidden yet in his quiver." God's secret weapon. "Use thee I will, he (God) promises." The thing is, we do not get to pick how God will use us, nor really, will we know: God may use you to make a post on Facebook that will cause someone to block you - and will haunt them until they go to Church. But you may never know. Steve the Missionary's third video goes here, because he gets it: say your prayers, go to Mass, be as obedient as you can with the resources God gives you and slowly, but surely, God will make you a blessing. And you will be blessed.

Where, though, does our sense of self come from, if not from the work we do? A Christian's selfhood is defined in Christ. He is the image of God - and we are in him, united in his sacrifice. OUr selfhood is so invested in him, that we were called "little Christs" by the Romans. St Paul says that he is dead and it is Christ who lives in him: that's here we all should be. In today's opening to the Epistle to the Church of Corinth St Paul makes this point. First, he calls the community of Christians he founded the Ekklesia. It is a noun, meaning "called out" but a few words later, he uses the same word as a verb "Kletois" or "summoned to" what? We are called to Holiness, being set apart for God. God has us in the quiver. We're there, intended to be used. Only it's not up to us to be used, we just go through life. God will make use in his own time.

If you end up in the side of a dragon, though, I'm gonna be jealous.







13 January 2017

Let's do the Timewarp Again!


Today's readings:

  • Hebrews 4:1-5, 11
  • Mark 2:1-12

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

And Jesus, seeing their faith, said to the palsied man, Son, thy sins are forgiven.
Mark 2:5 (Knox)

We do like to think that "our communion time" is for us. I'm here, God: fix me - or fix this thing that's wrong in my life, or whatnot. But: It's not like that at all. Mass, the Divine Liturgy, the Holy Eucharist, is a ripping apart of space and time. We stand at one moment before Golgotha, and before the Heavenly Throne, we are at the Parousia and the Harrowing of Hell. All the Altars of God's Church are but one Altar. All the priests but one Priest. There is only one Offering and perfect Oblation for the sins of the whole world. We are participating in the healing of all things, the Tikkun Olam, as the Jews say. The elevation of the Consecrated Elements (East or West) is that very moment in all of eternity breaking in on all of temporality. We are not there for "me time" (if any are, they're doing it wrong). This is God's Eternity. We are there to become the vessels of that Eternity in the world of time and space. It's not me time: for we stand there with every Christian who ever has, or ever will stand there before God, and with all God's Children from all times and all spaces.

We all struggle. That's why Philo says to be kind. All sins are equally sin... But sometime you find you've built a life out of one, you've decided it's who you are, and you may feel you need some extra help. It can be so all-engrossing, this false sense of self, that you - the real you - might feel paralyzed. You need your friends to bring you and drop you through the roof at Church: cuz you're not going to get there by yourself. This through the roof thing is one of my favorite passages. It's the sign that we are not saved alone: rather we are saved in community.

I was reminded of all this earlier this week, discussing with a friend my involvement with Courage, the Catholic Apostolate ministering to people who, experiencing sexual attraction to members of their own sex, desire to live according to the traditional Christian teaching on sexuality. I was given a blessing by my Spiritual Father to attend Courage meetings back in 2013. I knew it was a ministry which I would find helpful in my struggles. I met with a Fr S, one of the chaplains, and he invited me to attend, but I just never made it to the weekly gathering. I would find myself drifting of to sleep very early on the night of the meeting, just as my calendar alarm was going off. Next week, I would say. Then came the layoff a year ago (a year ago yesterday, actually), and then my six months trying to be a monastic, and my job search. Out of the blue, "coincidentally" as a materialist might say, Fr S emailed me for the first time in three years on the weekend I "happened" to be in SF for interviews last September. Sometimes God has to slug me upside the head for me to get the point. I was at the first meeting the week I moved back. I've been going since.

When we kneel at Mass, or stand at Liturgy, when we are in awe before the Physical, Eucharistic, Living and True presence of the Lord who made all the times and all the spaces that have ever been, there in that Host, there in that Chalice, we can make it "All about me" or we can decide - coining a phrase - to make me all about Thee. To make my life a sacrifice, a prayer.

We never know. We never know when we will be able to bring someone to Jesus, but we can do so at every turn. Leaving St Dominic's once, I saw all the Friars and Novices gathered in adoration before the Heart on fire with love for the world. Who were they bringing through the roof at that very moment? Fr S, praying right along, dropped me through the roof when the time was right. When you stand at Liturgy, or kneel at Mass, whom do you bring? When you go out, where do you take God?