29 March 2017

The Jesus Psalter


I first heard of the Jesus Psalter reading Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson's wonderful Come Rack, Come Rope, a love story set in the time of the Elizabethan Pogroms. It was also my first introduction to how those Pogroms were conducted - hunters, star courts, betrayals, simony, etc. Reading such a story can drive one to despair, or conversion. The Jesus Psalter is mentioned a couple of times in the opening portion of the book, both rather offhandedly.
...in Marjorie at least, as will be seen more plainly later, there was a strong love of Jesus Christ and His Mother, whom she knew, from her hidden crucifix and her (rosary) beads, and her Jesus Psalter--which she used every day..
And:
Her advice, besides that which has been described, was, principally, to say his Jesus Psalter more punctually, to hear mass whenever that were possible, to trust in God, and to be patient and submissive with his father in all things that did not touch divine love and faith. 
As it turns out, despite Benson's passing mention of it, it was a very important text in the Bad Old Times. It became a focus of piety for the beleaguered Catholic Church which historical context adds levels of meaning to the devotion.  As a side note: this is why I think it's important today. It fell out of use over the last 500 years, but today we may need it again. There are Christians in name who will not fail to turn over the Faithful, I think, if things get much rockier.

So, being the religious geek I am, I had to go looking for it. And it's out there, in a tiny few places.  The first place I found it was in on a website devoted to Latin prayers. I liked it, printed it out, and used it at the Monastery. Fr T even wants to reprint it. Then I found another text last summer, much more ancient, via Google Play. It is from a prayerbook published in 1599. (It's here in the Google Play Store.)The Full Title (as such were, in those days) is:
A Manuall of Praiers, gathered out of many famous and good authors, as well auncient as of the time present. Distributed according to the daies of the Weeke. Whereunto is added a newe Calendar, with the order to helpe at masse. (Certaine deuout and Godly petitions, commonly called: Jesus Psalter.)
More recently (this month, in fact) I was handed a copy of the text printed by the Catholic Truth Society in the 1940s.

The Jesus Psalter is a set of 15 invocations of the name of Jesus, recited in "decades" as on the traditional Dominican Rosary, but each invocation is different. Each one includes a threefold recitation of the Divine Name and each decade ends with a a set of the same prayers, including the Pater Noster and the Ave. Each set of five decades ends with the Credo as well. Later editions of the text have a longer prayer said at the end of each five.   Each decade, between the invocations, there is a series of meditations. Although they have a common theme, they vary between each edition I have. The oldest one from 1599, doesn't have meditations for all the decades and some are limited to only one or two sentences. This leads me to the conclusion that the meditations were intended to be personalized. This is as in, again, the Dominican Rosary, which is meant to be prayed (perhaps with a guidebook) until it comes "into one's soul" and forms its own set of meditations in the heart.

Another difference in various online editions is a confusion about how the decades are said. Here I will go with the one that is most logical - and also included in the 1599 text: each invocation is intended to be said 10 times with 3 repetitions of the name of Jesus in each invocation. Thus the Holy Name gets said 150 times in each set of 5 decades and thence we get the name Psalter: for "Jesus" is said once for each of the 150 Psalms. Add that to the daily practice of the Rosary, 150 Aves said in sequence (through the 15 traditional mysteries), and the laity would get 9 sets of "Psalter Equivalences" each week.

When read as a sequence, you can see the progression of thought through the 15 invocations:

  1. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, have mercy on me.
  2. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, help me.
  3. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, strengthen me.
  4. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, comfort me.
  5. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, make me constant.
  6. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, enlighten me.
  7. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fear Thee.
  8. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to love Thee.
  9. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to remember my death.
  10. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, send me here my purgatory.
  11. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to flee evil company.
  12. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to call to Thee for help.
  13. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to persevere in virtue.
  14. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to fix my mind on Thee.
  15. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, grant me grace to order my life to Thee.

I'll do more posts on this. Look for the label "Jesus Psalter".  Peace.

25 March 2017

Holy Things for the Holy


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

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

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

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

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

I have no idea how that could even be.



24 March 2017

Liturgical Doodles


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pull out all the stops for High Mass on Sunday.

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

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

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

23 March 2017

Fer'im R Agin'im?



Today's readings:

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 March 2017

70x7=Eternity

From CatholicLink
Today Readings:


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

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

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

This is fresh and so four stories come to mind:

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

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

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

Forgiveness comes when we see the other as person.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Spiritual Works of Mercy

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

The Corporal Works of Mercy

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


20 March 2017

Work? What Work?


Today's Readings:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so how can we do the same?

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

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

19 March 2017

Her Englightenment


Today's readings:


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They're all you've got.

18 March 2017

Order of Christ Crucified

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

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

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

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


14 March 2017

God's Family Servants.

The Holy Family Window, St Joseph, a young Jesus, and the BVM.
Today's readings:


The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Matthew 23:12

Continuing from yesterday, where Lust is the fruit of Pride, we have today's reading on humility. Yes, the whole Father-Teacher-Master package is about humility. And it could be about "titles" and the claim that we should have none as Christians, but this is not true. From the earliest, Paul spoke of himself as his disciples' Father - and even allowing that they may have many fathers, but he was their Father in the spirit. The Church has always had titles and offices, functions within the community. I may disagree with you about what those titles mean but you will agree with me that we've always had titles: Presbyteros, Episkopos, Dulos, Apostolos, etc. Our community functions in an hierarchy: which doesn't mean "some are better than/more important than others" but rather "rule" (archy) "of priests" (hieros). Yet Jesus says: the greatest must serve. Jesus embodies this, washing our feet. Jesus calls us to this service.

How, mindful, again, of lust and pride, does this work for us?  Let's look at the next three prayers from the Angelic Warfare Confraternity:
For our imagination, that we may be preserved from any fantasies that defile us, that all impure images may vanish, and that we may be protected from all the assaults of demons. 
For our memory, that no memories of past experiences may disturb us in any way, but that the Lord may touch and heal us through hope for a better future. 
For our estimation, that we may quickly sense dangers to chastity and instinctively flee from them, that we may never turn away from higher, more difficult, and more honorable goods for the sake of sinful self-indulgence.
If we read carefully, these three prayers are about the future, the past, and the present, respectively.  We ask God not to let us be troubled with the future, not to let us be haunted by the past, and - most importantly - not to be tripped up in the present. You know, we have all sinned in the past. The future doesn't exist. The question is where will you be now? What are you doing, now?

Pride plans the future. Pride exults in the past. Pride is not having a conversation - pride is planning a rebuttal. Pride is not listening in the present: pride is grinding the past down to counter attack in the future.

Yet our sins are only in the present.

Mindful what I said yesterday about pride denying intimacy and creating a passionate addiction, here's the method: yes we sinned in the past, wasn't that fun? Let's plan something interesting in the future! (And I can tell you how often those plans do NOT come to fruition.) But what does happen is something by the way, the sex of happenstance, in the present: a hookup app or a personal ad. And Boom. Our plans waylaid, our memories hijacked, we sin only in the present. Yet consent was given to that sin in our planning and our ruminating. Our pride has given birth to something way less exciting than we had imagined. Yet if we recap the story around the watercooler - or even in our diary - wow how awesome!

Who would be first, must be servant to all.

We cannot be a servant if we're planning to have sex, or to get a promotion, or to get something else "out of" them. It can even seem to be very innocent. It may only be a crush, but if it's not what it supposed to be - chastity, love, service - then something's going wrong. Wash away our sins with justice: which, in this case, is service, humility, redressing the wrongs done.

Some folks have asked me about coming into the Catholic Church at a time such as now, when there is seeming chaos. Of course I laugh: I've been around enough blocks to know that there is chaos everywhere. If it's not the Papal Monarchy, it's the constant infighting and simony of the petty city states of Orthodoxy, or the chaotically heretical, Everyone's a Pope world of Protestantism.  If I didn't believe that the Holy Spirit is running the Church I'd be off in the mountains someplace, hiding, or else learning the I Ching and being Shinto (actually, that's probably more like it).

Pope Francis (whose four year anniversary was yesterday) has struck me since the very beginning, as worthy of his Patron Saint. So, to be honest, have Popes Benedict and St John Paul II. I've never known the possibility that the leader of such an empire could be so humble.  And yet I've seen it three times in my lifetime.  Yes, Francis can go off-topic sometimes and cause toes to curl, but he's no Medici. Yes, he can raise a few eyebrows, but he's no Avignon Papacy. I'm not worried.Benedict XVI is the scholar of that tradition, John Paul had a gift for bringing that scholarship to the masses. Francis has a gift for going to the masses. God sends the Church what she needs when she needs it. These three servants of the servants of God have been blessings to the world since St John Paul was elected in October 1978.

These men, of course, are not the only ones - such leaders are not found only in the Catholic Church or even only in Christianity. Yet, they seem to be always found in the religious world: never among the "spiritual but not religious" nor among the secular. Humility (like chastity) is not a value highly sought in the world.  We would do well to learn from these men what it means to be humble - even with great power; what it means to be a servant, - even when a leader.

If we tie our memories down, if we sacrifice our dreams: if we live only in the present, then we can be humble servants, like our Lady and St Joseph. Then we can be servants at their table, of all their guests.

13 March 2017

Don't judge me, bro.


Today's Readings:


Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.
Luke 6:36-37a

This verse can be thrown in our faces at times. Anytime a comment about morality is made it can turn into a "Don't judge me, bro" sort of conversation. Yet the Greek word rendered "Judge" can mean more like dividing the grain from the chaff. In fact, Jesus - who often made moral statements regarding sex, anger, finance, etc, - told several parables in keeping with this idea of division. We're not to cut off people except as a very last resort. That avoidance of division would include making moral judgements about persons, certainly, but it doesn't mean not making moral judgements at all.

So I posted on Facebook on Saturday night:
I believe that people should be free, that traditional morality was invented by people and we should be free to make new morals now that we know more. We can come up with anything we want. We can invent ourselves anew, we can ignore cultural norms and expectations, we can pass laws we like and ignore the ones we don't like. Every one should be free to paint their pictures anyway they want.
Except Donald Trump.
My point was not that I believe that crap (obviously) nor that anyone does, but usually at some point in a conversation on morals it will come down to that and "don't judge me, bro." Especially around sex. But even there, as I pointed out on FB, we are not at all judgement free - ask anyone about the President's locker-room talk, and there's going to be a lot of judgement.

A priest mentioned a "throwaway" line in a book he had been reading, "Lust is the result/fruit/punishment of/for pride." I've googled several permutation of that with no avail, but it's kept me thinking for a while. Lust is the fruit of pride: for pride puts me before everyone and makes me want to have others serve my needs. At the same time pride denies me the intimacy that can come from real love, and I'm left not caring for people with whom I crave contact, sharing, human warmth. The end result is that sex works for everyone - you don't need to worry if I'm a nice guy, just boink'n'bye. In turn, that level of disconnect, of misuse of the divine gift of our bodies, results in a passionate addiction. And so lust blossoms. It doesn't matter if that's a lot of activity with other persons, or with one person, or with oneself. Its root is pride, its symptoms are narcissism and a lack of intimacy, and the result is lust.

Or, to read it differently, the prideful person put himself before others, judging himself (dividing himself off) from them. And because he has judge them (divided them) off from himself, he can no longer be intimate with them. If you divide off others - you've really only divided off yourself. This is why the heretic, the one who teaches heresy, is not "kicked out of the church" but rather excommunicates himself: you cannot hold on to someone who doesn't want to be held. Women feel judged by people who are opposed to abortion. Men who have sex with other men feel judged by people opposed to same sex marriage laws. These two statements can be true - that people feel judged - even when nothing but love has been expressed; when no division has happened. This is their own conscience speaking against their actions: calling them to repentance. That's rather different than judgement. (Don't get me wrong as I know the latter happens, too, but it's different.)

Yet, at the same time, Jesus says we are to be merciful. That reminds me of a ditty from a book on word play that I read in High School:

The Lord makes it
to rain On the Just
and the unjust fellow
But mostly on the Just
For the unjust steals
The just's umbrella.

We are to be merciful. God waits, wounded by our sins, waiting for us to come to him and ask for healing. God waits, pierced by the nails of our anger, for us to love him. God waits, not judging us - not dividing us off from himself - even though we have divided ourselves off from him. And we must aspire to do the same, to be perfect as our father is perfect:

We must be constant in the aspiring to the perfection of holy love, in order that love may be perfect; for the love which seeks anything less than perfection cannot fail to be less than perfect.
- St Francis de Sales






12 March 2017

The Ur-Leaving


Today's readings:


Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you.
Genesis 12:1b

At the Stations of the Cross on Friday night we were meditating on the woes of Migrants, leaving their families and homelands and seeking a better life. One is tempted to hear "in America" but that's not always the case: for America is not the Shining Star she once was and others have also eclipsed her. Migrants go to Saudi Arabia, to South Africa, to the UAE, to Germany, to England. It's not, as we tell ourselves here, a case of "the huddled masses yearning to breathe free" but rather, let's be honest, we Moderns have crafted a picture of financial success as the highest value and people can find that success in other ways in other places. Sometimes, though, a Migrant is not out to "make a better life" for themselves. Some migrants (most?) in these times are fleeing a crappy place in the "third world" that is crappy exactly because the first world has made it that way. We've set up a gov't that provides us with cheap oil, or cheap produce.

"We", here, does not mean America, but pretty much anyone who lives in a nation that does not produce the goods it consumes. And migrants tend to be the people most hurt by our Consumption. That's why they come here - because all their stuff ended up here, so they might as well come here too.

Abram's journey is an interesting one: for God called him out of the First World of his day, into the Fertile Crescent. What God didn't tell Abram, was that every Army in the world - until the invention of airplanes - would need to march through that land for ever to get to anyplace that was cool. And, of course, any time an Army Marches Through, they can't help but rape and pillage. God set Israel up: tiny, unloved, and easy to march through on your way to someplace else.

I will make a great nation of you. God has got a seriously warped sense of humor - or else he's trying to teach us something. "Us" here is the Church, called "Israel of God" and the "New Israel" by the Apostles. We are the Children of Abraham - and that should not be a good thing, really, in the eyes of the world. But we do our darnedest to make it out to be good, we want to be successful.

St Paul had to tell even his own disciple, St Timothy, "bear your share of hardship for the gospel". Whatever it is, we don't want it to be hard.

Abram, leaving the first world of his day, and wandering into the hinterlands is a sign for us. This sign was repeated when the Israelites left the first world of their day (Egypt) and wandered into the hinterlands. This sign was repeated again when the Jews left their captivity in the first world of their day and, again, wandered into the hinterlands. This is the pattern set up for the Church but her application has to be different - for the Church is sent into all the world, the Hinterlands, and the Innerlands, the Thitherlands and the Interlands.

The Church has no choice but to be everywhere. That's why today's Gospel is so important. In fact, it's so important that those who carry the Gospel cannot be trapped in the first world: we cannot be successful in the eyes of the world because that success comes at the price of the lives of others.

What is today's Gospel? That if we bear our cross, the Transfiguration is not far away. But if we drop our cross onto the backs of others - to make our lives easier. well. In the Tenth Station on Friday, "Jesus is stripped of his garments", the following was offered:
Tenth Station
Jesus is Stripped of His Garments Violation of Human Rights and Human Trafficking
"After the crucifixion, his clothes were distributed by lot and he sat there covering himself."Matthew 27:35-36 
Meditation 
The body of many immigrant, men, women and children, are often business objects to be sold and trafficked by criminal groups (smugglers) who operate with impunity in the transit countries of immigrants. Many suffer physical and sexual abuse, are forced into prostitution and unworthy work. They are stripped of their rights, their belongings, and even their lives. Like Jesus, boys and girls are battered reflections of our evil world. 
PrayerJesus, deliver us from the temptations of pornography and immorality. Clean our anxious hearts from earthly pleasures. Stop the desire for profit and goods made at any price and give us a decent heart like yours. Amen.
(Source)
I have lately been wondering lately if those "earthly pleasures" must be seen to include cheap veggies available year round at SafeWay, Ingles, or ShopRite. What are we doing to the bodies of our migrant brothers and sisters when we sell them into slavery to farmers? What about the clothes we wear, our electronics. What if the cars we drive are moved by oil that is delivered at the cost of Native lives and freedom? What if our whole method of consumption comes at the cost of our damnation? What if our greed for consumption comes at the cost of human icons of God? What if our very way of moving in the world comes at the self-sacrifice of our brothers and sisters in Christ? Ironically, in turn, setting up temptations for them to come here and live off the same unjust system? What if we gain the world and yet give up our souls?

How can we say we've left our city to follow God, if, instead of being Transfigured into his likeness, we are destroying his likeness in ourselves and others?


07 March 2017

Before Our Father


A Patristic Homily on the Gospel Reading for today, Tuesday in the First Week of Lent, from the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, using the words of Sts Augustine, John Cassian, John Chrysostom, and Pope Gregory the Great. 

Judaism has the teaching that God is the Father of us all. In the teaching of the Trinity, Christianity personalizes it - God the Father is not just the All-Father, as in Judaism and even in many pagan paths, he is the generative source of God the Son and to the degree we stand in Communion with the Son his Father is also Our Father in Heaven, not just in an Omnipotent Creator sort of way, but in an intimate, loving, paternal way. We do say "Lord" and "King" along side "Father". But we also say, "Daddy".  Thomas Aquinas patristic commentary on the Our Father is long.  Please read the whole thing. Scroll down to where you'll see verse 9 in red:  9. “After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed by thy name.” The rest follows. For today's Patristic Homily, we'll stick to the first two verses of today's Gospel:
7. “But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.8. Be ye not therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask Him.”

The hypocrites use to set themselves so as to be seen in their prayers and the Ethnici (that is, the Gentiles) use to think that they shall be heard for their much speaking; so Jesus tells us, “When ye pray, do not ye use many words.” We should indeed pray often, but in short form, lest if we be long in our prayers, the enemy that lies in wait for us, might suggest something for our thoughts. Yet to continue long in prayer is not, as some think, what is here meant, by “using many words.” For much speaking is one thing, and an enduring fervency another. The Lord Himself, as it is written, continued a whole night in prayer, and prayed at great length, setting an example to us. Yet also the monks of Egypt are said to use frequent prayers, but those very short, and as it were hasty ejaculations, lest that fervency of spirit, which is most behoveful for us in prayer, should by longer continuance be violently broken off. Let prayer then be without much speaking, but not without much entreaty, if this fervent spirit can be supported; for much speaking in prayer is to use in a necessary matter more words than necessary. But to entreat much, is to importune with enduring warmth the heart Him to whom our entreaty is made; for often is this business effected more by groans than words, by weeping more than speech.

Jesus thereby dissuades us from empty speaking in prayer; as, for example, when we ask of God things improper, as dominions, fame, overcoming of our enemies, or abundance of wealth. He commands then that our prayers should not be long; long, that is, not in time, but in multitude of words. For it is right that those who ask should persevere in their asking; “being instant in prayer,” as the Apostle instructs; but does not thereby enjoin us to compose a prayer of ten thousand verses, and speak it all! What He condemns is many words in praying that come of want of faith; “as the Gentiles do.” For a multitude of words were needful for the Gentiles, seeing the daemons could not know for what they petitioned, until instructed by them; they think they shall be heard for their much speaking.

True prayer consists rather in the bitter groans of repentance, than in the repetition of set forms of words. For we use many words then when we have to instruct one who is in ignorance, what need of them to Him who is Creator of all things; “Your heavenly Father knoweth what ye have need of before you ask Him.”
So in our prayers we do not instruct, but entreat; it is one thing to inform the ignorant, another to beg of the understanding: the first were to teach; the latter is to perform a service of duty. We do not then pray in order to teach God our wants, but to move Him, that we may become His friends by the importunity of your applications to Him, and that we may be humbled, being reminded of our sins.

So we ought not to use words in seeking to obtain of God what we would, but to seek with intense and fervent application of mind, with pure love, and suppliant spirit. Yet even with words we should at certain periods come before God in prayer, that by these signs of things we may keep ourselves in mind, and may know what progress we have made in such desire, and may stir up ourselves more actively to increase this desire, that after it have begun to wax warm, it may not be chilled and utterly frozen up by divers cares, without our continual care to keep it alive. Words therefore are needful for us that we should be moved by them, that we should understand clearly what it is we ask, not that we should think that by them the Lord is either instructed or persuaded.

Still it may be asked, what is the use of prayer at all, whether made in words or in meditation of things, if God knows already what is necessary for us. The mental posture of prayer calms and purifies the soul, and makes it of more capacity to receive the divine gifts which are poured into it. For God does not hear us for the prevailing force of our pleadings; He is at all times ready to give us His light, but we are not ready to receive it, but prone to other things. There is then in prayer a turning of the body to God, and a purging of the inward eye, whilst those worldly things which we desired are shut out, that the eye of the mind made single might be able to bear the single light, and in it abide with that joy with which a happy life is perfected.

06 March 2017

Who is my Brethren?

A Patristic Homily for the Monday in the First Week of Lent. From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Remigius, Gregory the Great, Rabanus, and Origen, the Teacher of the Fathers.

Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

To this most sweet section of Scripture which we cease not continually to ponder, let us now listen with all attention and compunction of spirit, for Christ does indeed clothe this discourse with more terrors and vividness. He does not accordingly say of this as of the others, “The kingdom of heaven is like,” but shews of Himself by direct revelation, saying, “When the Son of man shall come in his majesty.” Jesus gives us this story as he, himself, is within two days to celebrate the passover, to be delivered to the cross, and mocked by men. He now fitly now holds out the glory of His triumph, that He may overbalance the offences that were to follow by the promise of reward.

Both the wicked and they also who shall be set on His right hand shall see Him in human shape, for He shall appear in the judgment just when he was incarnate: in a form like ours. He shall come down with the Angels whom He shall call from heavenly places to hold judgment. “For all his Angels shall be with him” to bear witness to the things wherein they have administered to men’s salvation at His bidding. “And all nations shall be gathered before Him.” (Proving also that the resurrection of men shall be a real and bodily event.)

The wicked are called goats, because they climb rough and rugged rocks, and walk in dangerous places. Under the figure of a sheep in Scripture is signified simplicity and innocence. Beautifully then in this place are the elect denoted by sheep. The goat is a salacious animal, and was the offering for sins in the Law; and He says not ‘she goats’ which can produce young, and “come up shorn from the washing." Then He separates them in place. For the Saints who have wrought right works, shall receive in recompense of their right works the King’s right hand, at which is rest and glory; but the wicked for their evil and sinister deeds have fallen to the left hand, that is, into the misery of torments. Then shall the King say to those who are on “his right hand, Come,” that in whatsoever they are behind they may make it up when they are more perfectly united to Christ. He adds, “ye blessed of my Father,” to shew how eminently blessed they were, being of old “blessed of the Lord, which made heaven and earth.”

Observe that He says not ‘Receive,’ but “possess,” or “inherit,” as due to you from of old. This “prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” is to be understood as of the foreknowledge of God, with whom things to come are as already done.

The Saints obtain the boon of this heavenly kingdom because, says Jesus, the Judge, “I was an hungred, and ye gave me to eat.” In fact, Our Lord here enumerates six works of mercy which whoso shall study to accomplish shall be entitled to the kingdom prepared for the chosen from the foundation of the world. These are they who are judged on the side of the elect, and who reign; who wash away the stains of their life with tears; who redeem former sins by good deeds following; who, whatever unlawful thing they have at any time done, have covered it from the Judge’s eyes by a cloak of alms. It is from humility that they declare themselves unworthy of any praise for their good deeds, not that they are forgetful of what they have done. “Lord, when saw we thee &c.” They say not because they distrust the Lord’s words, but they are in amaze at so great exaltation, and at the greatness of their own glory; or because the good which they have done will seem to them to be so small according to that of the Apostle, “For the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that shall be revealed in us.”

It is Christ in every poor man whom we feed when he is hungry, or give drink to when he is thirsty, and so of other things; but when He says, “In that ye have done it to one of the least of these my brethren,” He seems to me not to speak of the poor generally, but of the poor in spirit, those to whom He pointed and said, “Whosoever shall do the will of my Father which is in heaven, the same is my brother.”Yet if they are His brethren, why does He call them “the least?” Because they are lowly, poor, and outcast. By these He means not only the monks who have retired to the mountains, but every believer though he should be secular, though an hungred, or the like, yet He would have him obtain merciful succours, for baptism and communication of the Divine mysteries makes him a brother.

05 March 2017

Rotten Tomatoes



Mom tells me that there are help-wanted ad in her local paper looking for fruit pickers. The job pays $10.50 an hour, comes with benes and is being advertised in English. They can't get their usual workers because of the policies enacted by Current Occupant in the White House. I spent some time a couple of weeks ago at a training for "Rapid Response", expressing Solidarity during Immigration Raids. Oddly, no one talked about food. Why are these things related? Because undocumented workers are really unthanked workers who bring home our bacon, and our tomatoes, our brussel sprouts, our fruits, not to mention our milk, our salad greens, and our juices. If you are, right now, within a short drive's distance of a grocery store selling fresh produce - especially a "big box" grocer, but also a good many food co-ops, and mom-and-pop bodega, you have all the documentation you need on your table. If you're within a stone's throw of fresh stone fruit at this time of year (or at any time of year, really) you've got slave food there. Grapes? Yes. Wine. Yes. Doesn't matter really: unless you can trace it farm to table and you know the situation on the farm.

You have to have both the knowledge and the trace: because some Mom-and-Pops have armies behind them and they are probably not paying them $10.50 plus benefits.

Thing is, that wage is going to cost some money.  Some amazing money. I jokingly suggested to Mom that next year's crop of apples might cost $5 a piece. Peaches might cost $10 each because they are more delicate and require not only a careful handling, but also a Rapid Response sort of picking. You have to get them at the right moment or they'll go bad.

None of this is important.

What is important is that we have an economy predicated on cheap food that we buy not paying the full cost in human energy or dignity. Some cities actually have laws against growing food. Even at the monastery, I couldn't get any interest in farming.

As I was discussing this with Mom this morning after Mass, I told her that Grandma Kate, my Great Grandmother, grew bushels of veggies in her garden - which had nearly the same footprint as her house, maybe larger. She canned the veggies every fall and left them in her basement. We all enjoyed the fruits of her labors through the winter. She also pickled a lot of things and there was so much goodness there! He daughter, my grandmother, also had a large garden (and a family of six to feed) but, by 1975, when I started paying attention to this stuff, Grandma wasn't canning so much as Grandma Kate. My grandmother was the only member of her generation with a large garden.  Uncle Eddie, her brother, didn't have one, neither did her sister, Aunt Marie. Her brother raised chickens! But I don't remember us ever having either eggs or meat from Uncle Jimmy's chicken farm. And their children, my Dad and all the cousins... they are all thoroughly modern Grocery Shoppers. I did have a garden once in the back of our house in Astoria. But that was a one-time affair and I'm not the best gardener. But there were tomatoes and peppers!

This is why we're doomed: our economy is based on injustice, and we'll be trapped. Any uprising will be destined to be fighting, in part, for the enslavement of some for the purpose of food production. I begin to image that the whole purpose of the current exercises in stupidity is to so ruin everything that we beg to have our undocumented workers back, that we demand to have our cheap out-of-season strawberries.

What are we to do? I suggest we learn how to garden real fast.

04 March 2017

Lo, Mercy is Feasting.



A Patristic Homily for the Saturday after Ash WednesdayFrom the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts Bede the Venerable, Cyril, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, and Theophylact.
Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?

Luke and Mark, for the honor of the Evangelist, are silent as to his common name, but Matthew is the first to accuse himself, and gives the name of Matthew and publican, that no one might despair of salvation because of the enormity of his sins, when he himself was changed from a publican to an Apostle. Levi had been a publican, a rapacious man, of unbridled desires after vain things, a lover of other men’s goods, for this is the character of the publican, but snatched from the very worship of malice by Christ’s call. Hence it follows, And he said to him, Follow me. He bids him follow Him, not with bodily step, but with the soul’s affections. Matthew therefore, being called by the Word, left his own, who was wont to seize the things of others, as it follows, And having left all, he rose, and followed him. Here mark both the power of the caller, and the obedience of him that was called. For he neither resisted nor wavered, but forthwith obeyed; and like the fishermen, he did not even wish to go into his own house that he might tell it to his friends.

The Lord honored Levi, whom He had called, by immediately going to his feast. This testified the greater confidence in him. Hence it follows, And Levi made him a great feast in his own house. Nor did Jesus sit down to meat with Matthew alone, but with many: And there was a great company of Publicans and others that sat down with them. All the publicans came to Levi as to their colleague, and a man in the same line with themselves. Matthew glorified in the presence of Christ, and called his friends all together. For

Christ displayed every sort of remedy, and not only by discoursing and displaying cures, or even by rebuking the envious, but also by eating with them, He corrected the faults of some, thereby giving us a lesson, that every time and occasion brings with it its own profit. But He shunned not the company of Publicans, for the sake of the advantage that might ensue, like a physician, who unless he touch the afflicted part cannot cure the disease. By his eating with sinners he thus in no way forbids us from doing the same.

In his charity, the Lord was blamed by the Pharisees, who were envious, and wished to but division between Christ and His disciples - the long time and the new.  And the Pharisees murmured, saying, Why do you eat with Publicans, &c. This was the voice of the Devil. This was the first word the Serpent uttered to Eve, Yea has God said, You shall not eat. So they diffuse the poison of their father.

The Lord Jesus refutes all their charges, showing, that so far from its being a fault to mix with sinners, it is but a part of His merciful design. Jesus answering said to them, They that are whole need not a physician; He reminds them of their common infirmities, and shows them that they are of the number of the sick, but adds, He is the Physician. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. As if He should say, So far am I from hating sinners, that for their sakes only I came, not that they should remain sinners, but be converted and become righteous. Yet, we know well how God loves righteousness and David has never seen the righteous man forsaken. So certainly this "calling of sinners" does not mean that the righteous are excluded! You must understand that Jesus meant "righteous" rather ironically: those who boast of the law and do not seek the grace of the Gospel. There was none righteous upon the earth St. Paul shows, saying, All have sinned, and need the grace of God. Those who claim to be justified in themselves. If grace is for repentance, surely those who despise repentance renounce grace. And even so, He calls those "sinners", who considering their guilt, and feeling that they cannot be justified by the law, submit themselves by repentance to the grace of Christ.

The publican is he who serves the prince of this world, and is debtor to the flesh, to which the glutton gives his food, the adulterer his pleasure, and another something else. When Jesus saw this publican sitting at the receipt of custom, and not stirring himself to greater wickedness, He calls him that he might be snatched from the evil, and follow Jesus, and receive the Lord into the house of his soul. He who receives Christ into his inner chamber, is fed with the greatest delights of overflowing pleasures. The Lord therefore willingly enters, and reposes in his affection; but again the envy of the treacherous is kindled, and the form of their future punishment is prefigured; for while all the faithful are feasting in the kingdom of heaven, the faithless will be cast out hungry. At the same time also is shown the difference between those who are zealous for the law and those who are for grace, that they who follow the law shall suffer eternal hunger of soul, while they who have received the word into the inmost soul, refreshed with abundance of heavenly meat and drink, can neither hunger nor thirst.

03 March 2017

Why Not Fast?


A Patristic Homily for the Friday after Ash Wednesday.

From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Jerome, Rabanus, Augustine, Hillary.

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast often, but thy disciples fast not?”

This is arrogance - to take pride in one’s piety; to boast, as it were, in one’s humility, if such were possible. Nor can we excuse John’s disciples for they sided with the Pharisees whom they knew had been condemned by John. Still here they are, bringing a false accusation against Jesus, whom they knew their master had preached. What they say is only this, Since you are the Physician of souls, why do your disciples neglect fasting and eat with sinners? And to augment the weight of their charge by comparison, they put themselves first, and then the Pharisees. They fasted as they learnt out of the Law, as the Pharisee spoke, “I fast twice in the week;” the others learnt it of John.

John drank neither wine, nor strong drink, increasing his merit by abstinence, because he had no power over nature. But Jesus has power to forgive sins. Why should He avoid eating with sinners? He has power to make them righteous - which none others have. Certainly Christ fasts - for he follows the law and you should not avoid the command; but He eats with sinners that you may know His grace and power.


Observe how when strangers, as before the Publicans, were to be defended, He accuses heavily those that blamed them; but when these same outsiders brought a charge against His own disciples, He makes answer with mildness. “And Jesus saith unto them, Can the children of the bridegroom mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them?” Before He had styled Himself Physician, now Bridegroom, calling to mind the words of John which he had said,  “He that hath the bride is the bridegroom.”  Christ is the Bridegroom and the Church the Bride. Of this spiritual union the Apostles were born; they cannot mourn so long as they see the Bridegroom in the chamber with the Bride. But when the nuptials are past, and the time of passion and resurrection is come, then shall the children of the Bridegroom fast.

Everyone who rightly fasts, either humbles his soul in the groaning of prayer, and bodily chastisement, or suspends the motion of carnal desire by the joys of spiritual meditation. And the Lord here makes answer respecting both kinds of fasting; concerning the first, which is in humiliation of soul, He says, “The children of the bridegroom cannot mourn.”  Then we must mourn because the Bridegroom is taken away from us. And we rightly mourn if we burn with desire of Him. Blessed they to whom it was granted before His passion to have Him present with them, to enquire of Him what they would, to hear what they ought to hear. Those days the fathers before His coming sought to see, and saw them not, because they were placed in another dispensation, one in which He was proclaimed as coming, not one in which He was heard as present. For in us was fulfilled that He speaks of, “The days shall come when ye shall desire to see one of these days, and shall not be able.” Who then will not mourn this? Who will not say, “My tears have been my meat day and night, while they daily say unto me, Where is now thy God?” With reason then did the Apostle seek “to die and to be with Christ.”

Figuratively, this His answer, that while the Bridegroom was present with them, His disciples needed not to fast, teaches us the joy of His presence, and the sacrament of the holy food, which none shall lack, while He is present, that is, while one keeps Christ in the eye of the mind. He says, they shall fast when He is taken away from them, because all who do not believe that Christ is risen, shall not have the food of life. For in the faith of the resurrection the sacrament of the heavenly bread is received.

02 March 2017

Take Up and Deny


A Patristic Homily for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday.

From the Catena Aurea of St Thomas Aquinas, and the words of Sts John Chrysostom, Basil the Great, Bede the Venerable, Gregory the Great, and Theophylact, and also of Origen, the Teacher of the Fathers.
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.

Great and noble leaders provoke the mighty in arms to deeds of valour, not only by promising them the honors of victory, but by declaring that suffering is in itself glorious. Such we see is the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. For He had foretold to His disciples, that He must suffer the accusations of the Jews, be slain, and rise again on the third day. Lest then they should think that Christ indeed was to suffer persecution for the life of the world, but that they might lead a soft life, He shows them that they must also pass through similar struggles, if they desired to obtain His glory.  Now the Savior of His great mercy and lovingkindness will have no one serve Him unwillingly and from constraint, but those only who come of their own accord, and are grateful for being allowed to serve Him. And so not by compelling men and putting a yoke upon them, but by persuasion and kindness, He draws to Him every where those who are willing.

Unless a man renounces himself, he comes not near to Him, who is above him; it is said therefore, Let him deny himself. A denial of one’s self is indeed a total forgetfulness of things past, and a forsaking of his own will. A man also denies himself when by a sufficient alteration of manners or a good conversation he changes a life of habitual wickedness. He who has long lived in lasciviousness, abandons his lustful self when he becomes chaste, and in like manner a forsaking of any crimes is a denial of one’s self.

A desire of suffering death for Christ and a mortification of one’s members which are upon the earth, and a strong resolution to undergo any danger for Christ, and an indifference towards the present life, this it is to take up one’s cross.

In two ways also is the cross taken up, either when the body is afflicted through abstinence, or the mind touched by sympathy. Jesus rightly joins these two, Let him deny himself, and let him take up his cross, for as the man who is prepared to ascend the cross conceives in his mind the intention of death, and so goes on thinking to have no more part in this life, so he who is willing to follow our Lord, ought first to deny himself, and so take up his cross, that his will may be ready to endure every calamity.

Herein then stands a man’s perfection, that he should have his affections hardened, even towards life itself, and have ever about him the answer of death, that he should by no means trust in himself. But perfection takes its beginning from the relinquishment of things foreign to it; suppose these to be possessions or vain-glory, or affection for things that profit not.

Jesus assigns the cause of this when He adds, For whosoever will save his life shall lose it; that is, whosoever will according to the present life keep his own soul fixed on things of sense, the same shall lose it, never reaching to the bounds of happiness. But on the other hand He adds, but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake, shall save it. That is, whosoever forsakes the things of sense looking upon truth, and exposes himself to death, as it were losing his life for Christ, shall the rather save it. If then it is a blessed thing to save our life, (with regard to that safety which is in God,) there must be also a certain good surrender of life which is made by looking upon Christ. It seems also to me from resemblance to that denying of one’s self which has been before spoken of, that it becomes us to lose a certain sinful life of ours, to take up that which is saved by virtue.


01 March 2017

Do not Display Yourself


For the Gospel for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18):

A homily from the works of St John Chrysostom, Bishop. 

And when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast.

Here we do well to sigh aloud, and to wail bitterly: for not only do we imitate the hypocrites, but we have even surpassed them. For, brothers and sisters, I know many, not merely fasting and making a display of it, but instead they neglect to fast, and yet still make a show as if being one of them that fast. They cloak themselves with an excuse worse than their sin. For “I do this,” say they, “that I may not offend everyone.” What? There is a law of God which commands these things, and you're worried about "offense"? You imagine, I think, that in the keeping of God's law there is offense, and in not keeping God's law you are saving your neighbors from offense? And what can be worse than this folly?

When the Lord Jesus said, “Let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth,” it was not of hands that he was speaking, of course, but of our duty to keep our piety hidden from all. When he commanded us to enter into our closet for prayer, he didn’t say to go there alone all the time, nor even to go there primarily. He command us to pray, but he reminded us to be private. So likewise here, in commanding us “to be anointed” when we fast, he is not giving us a new command to anoint ourselves! As one can see clearly from David and from Daniel it was the fashion, for festive occasions to anoint oneself. Jesus says that we must anoint ourselves, not that we should positively do this, but that by all means we might endeavor, with great strictness, to hide what we were doing from others. If we were to always anoint ourselves when fasting that would just as surely proclaim it before others as fake morbidity.

Jesus does not make the fast more strict, nor command us to practice more of it, but he does command us that we should not lose our reward because of our pride and vainglory. Of course both hypocrites and the pious have the same command - to fast. Yet to those who actually follow Jesus the command is made all the more easy: he adds nothing to our toils, but only insists that we gather our wages with all security. Jesus  will not suffer us to go away unrewarded, as these others do.

Think of an athlete, a gymnast in the Olympic games. Though he works before so great a multitude sitting there, and so many princes, he desires to please only one: the judge; and this though the judge be much the inferior to the athletes. We have a twofold motive for displaying the our victory only to Christ. Jesus is the one supreme Judge. Also he is beyond compare fully superior to all that are sitting in the theatre.  Yet we still greatly enjoy making our display before others - and these cannot only not give us the prize, but they can also take it away from us!