17 June 2018

As you go, sow.


JMJ
The Readings for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Sic est regnum Dei, quemadmodum si homo jaciat sementem in terram, et dormiat, et exsurgat nocte et die, et semen germinet, et increscat dum nescit ille. Ultro enim terra fructificat, primum herbam, deinde spicam, deinde plenum frumentum in spica. 
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  

The kingdom God (that is The Church) is like this: scattering seed everywhere and what grows... grows.

What does it mean to scatter seed? To mention these things at every possible point: not in a pushy way, but just direct. When you ask a coworker, "What are you doing this weekend?" The answer is, "Going to a movie" or "Spending time with friends" or maybe "Going on a Date". Do you respond with, "Going to Mass"? And, again, just in a casual, this is what's happening sort of way. You asked, here's what I'm doing.

I've told this story before: when I went to the Monastery, coworkers at my old job were like "I didn't even know he was religious." I totally wondered what I had been doing wrong. The seed was not sown. There were no blades springing up. In the end there was no harvest. But when I crossed myself for grace at lunch time, suddenly other started to do so as well. When you plant seeds, you do so "courageously," "by faith and not by sight" as St Paul says. 

We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

Chorus All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

We cooperate in this action, but the process is God's. It takes our courage and our faith to participate. And our humility. We have to relinquish control and the drive for success. Our job is to sow the seed - a constant and repetitive function; a necessary one but not one with a lot of reward and glory.

How will you scatter seed on the job, on the bus, on the freeway? How will you scatter seed on social media and on those cold calls you have to make for he office? How will you scatter seed as you shop, or as you walk through the park?

16 June 2018

The yoke's on Elisha...


JMJ
The Readings for Saturday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Cumque venisset Elias ad eum, misit pallium suum super illum qui statim relictis bobus cucurrit post Eliam.
 Eli'jah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him and [Elisha] left the oxen, and ran after Eli'jah. 

The call of Elisha is this strange thing, is it not? Elijah (who had been told a few verses earlier of this plan) simply walks up and tosses his poncho over a man ploughing with oxen and walks away. The man follows. It's a subtle sign. It works. But there's one more test: Elijah says "Go back. What have I done to you?" But Elisha knows and follows. Elijah is yoking Elisha with the call of God. This is the meaning of the action.

This comes after the previous scene where there's an Earthquake! and Fire! and a Wind Storm! and then a faint whispering sound. It's that last one that will make your hairs stand up: it was God. Drop a scarf on the guy... this you say is a call? 

How subtle are God's actions in our lives! 

The difference between the destruction of the Prophets of Ba'al and the call of the Prophet Elisha is astounding. God may decide to act, once in a while, in showy miracles. I tend to want showboat events: lightening flashes, or visions in dreams, handwriting on the wall, or audible conversations with Ghostly Presences, but God gives us a nudge, a whisper, a silent and persistent intention; a sense of something more. Those other things can often be distractions. I probably would have wanted to run out after the Earthquake or the Fire. I would have responded to the Big Show. God's got better things planned, though.

God wants better things for us, as well: don't swear, says Jesus, just say yes or no. A big show of words can be useful or it can be distracting, but it doesn't mean more. In fact, given the traditional spiritual counsel to silence, yes or no can be a lot of talking indeed.

A reminder from yesterday: it is the relationship that matters. Getting out, being social, joining in prayer with the community, fellowship with our sisters and brothers, and being the servant to each other. We strain ourselves to do big things, when all we need to do is love. We want to be the flash mob doing  a Mozart Mass in the mall when all we need is someone to lead the carol sing at the seniors' home. 

When God drops a mantle on you, are you tossing it off in a fit of fan dancing and showmanship, or do you say, let me kiss my folks goodbye? I love that Elisha kills his yoke of kine and feeds the neighbors. When God calls you away, he doesn't absolve you of your relationships. He improves them.

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15 June 2018

Is there someone else we can talk to?

JMJ
The Readings for Friday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Audistis quia dictum est antiquis... Ego autem dico vobis...  
You have heard it said of old...  But I say to you... 

If you come to the New Testament looking for a relief from those pesky rules in the Old Testament, look no further than the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus, the God of all Love, makes his Father's rules even more strict. Not just don't do XYZ, but even don't imagine doing XYZ, or think about the things that could lead up to XYZ. And, as we learn later, don't do something that will draw or trip your sister or your brother into XYZ. Jesus is not much more lenient than the older stuff, in fact, he's worse.

If by worse you mean adding concern for motives to concern for actions.

A friend posted the other day that his priest told him he would do much better struggling against sin if he stopped thinking about rules he could or could not break and started thinking about relationships. Sin breaks relationships. Another friend, preaching last week, underscored that the Evil One's primary purpose is to isolate us, to break our relationships and to leave us feeling alone, isolated, and vulnerable. Sin is the easiest way to do that. Again, it's not breaking rules, per se, it's breaking relationships.

Jesus knows that actions may end relationships, but motives and intentions do so as well. We are stranded, alone in our heads. Thoughts and addictions that lead us to isolating behaviors are just as dangerous to our souls as are the actions themselves. 

George Carlin discusses this in Confession
'Cause that's what they taught us; it's what's in your mind that counts; your intentions, that's how we'll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had'ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. "Thou Shalt Not WANNA". If you woke up in the morning and said, "I'm going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!" Save your car fare; you did it, man! Absolutely!
Jesus is mindful that once you have the wrong motives, even the right actions get corrupted: being sexually attracted to someone is a bad reason to befriend a stranger on Facebook or to invite a coworker out to lunch. It's a bad thing to base a purely platonic friendship on as well. Greed is a bad reason to get married. I've known people to leave parties "together" because it was August in New York City and one of the two had air conditioning. Putting down a bad foundation ruins the whole structure. Jesus is pointing out the foundation comes way earlier than we had previously imagined.

No one is saved alone: it is our relationships that bring us to heaven. If we  wanna, we damage the relationships in our hearts, we have already sinned. 

Jesus calls us to loving relationship with himself and with each other. This is a relationship based not on use, not on utility, but rather on intrinsic worth. We have to will the good of each other. We have to wanna.

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14 June 2018

Lord, it's hard to be humble.


JMJ
The Readings for  in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Si ergo offers munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te : relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare, et vade prius reconciliari fratri tuo : et tunc veniens offeres munus tuum. 
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

Jesus says not "if you hate someone" or "if you have a grudge" but rather "if your brother has anything against you." If Christians actually believed that, there would be no schism. Whomever forgives the most wins. "You can't leave me because I'm coming with you", said the Patriarch to the Pope (or the other way around), as they duked it out in an attempt to say "I'm wrong. You're right."  Each before the other.

This is our challenge - I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ to me.

How far do we take this humility? Jesus says to our brothers. Clearly it's not an act of humility to say to a worshiper of Ba'al, "I'm wrong..." Jesus was not saying to his Jewish brethren that the Israelites should have stayed in Egypt.

But how can we be humble before others, those outside the faith? In fact, that humility is to be a hallmark of our presence. 

Imagine if you have met someone, gone on a few dates, and are thinking about "getting serious". How many dates do you go on before you mention that you go to Mass every day? Can you say you are "in a relationship" with someone who doesn't know that about you? Can you even be friends?

In today's world many folks just say, "Let me be silent." While it feels humble, it is an action of pride. It  is not loving: preaching out loud is not what I mean here. You are in relationship with these folks. God has placed them in your life. Keeping silent about your life is denying the relationship. Fear is pride: God doesn't know what he's asking of me in the modern world. I will keep silent because I know what is best. Humility is about growing that relationship, about deepening the love you share with those around you. Denying your full presence to your friends, to your coworkers, to the people around you is a breakdown of love. Retreating in silence is building a wall that, in the end, will only hinder their salvation and so, yours.

Your brother holds you silence against you. Leave your gift at the altar and repair your relationship.

So, how to be humble, to live honestly as Christians. Love requires risk. Think of Jesus washing feet. Think of Jesus silent in the Blessed Sacrament. This is our challenge, our walk. 

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13 June 2018

Brief thought on Elijah: Pick.

TZzztztztzzzztztzztzttztzztzt CHUSHPOW
JMJ
The Readings for St Anthony of Padua, Doctor of the Church 
Wednesday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Usquequo claudicatis in duas partes? Si Dominus est Deus, sequimini eum : si autem Baal, sequimini illum. 
How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Ba'al, then follow him. 

This story... I'm quite convinced the "fire of God descending" was more of a TZzztztztzzzztztzztzttztzztzt CHUSHPOW lightening flash and explosion. The fire even lapped up the water. And the part the reading skips, "Seize the prophets of Baal. Let none of them escape!” They seized them, and Elijah brought them down to the Wadi Kishon and there he slaughtered them." Ba'al simply means "lord". It is, really, the non-Hebrew word for "El".  Notice it's kind of the same sounds.  

Elijah challenges us to pick: who is Lord. Mindful that you can only serve one lord, and, as Mr Dillon said, "you've got to serve somebody". Elijah asks us to pick.

Pick.

St Mary of Egypt fought against all the lords of her life for 40 years. I've only just begun. Not only do I have to pick (I've picked already, thank you) I have to kill off all the parts of me that are prophets for the others.
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12 June 2018

The Feast of St Barnabas

JMJ

I was in New York City for the Ordination of my friend, Linda, to the Diaconate of the Episcopal Church, to be held at the Cathedral of St John the Divine, the Largest Gothic Cathedral in the world. This was the Summer of 1985: I had taken a year off of NYU and moved to Atlanta, made a few errors, came back to New York. Then I spent a semester at the Institute of Theology, the ECUSAn Diocese of New York's "Late Vocation" project.

That semester I had my first clue that I wasn't fitting in with the general ECUSAn slant on things: my sense (even at age 25) of what was Christian was not quite en vogue. Still, I struggled bravely forward, holding to my "big tent Anglo-Catholicism" that had room for gay couples and ordained women while still insisting on the literal reality of the Virgin Birth, the Physical Resurrection, and the Adorable Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.

After Linda's ordination I had a wake-up call. One of her friends arrived at the party late (pretty much everyone had gone and it was down to a few professors and geek talk). He had that afternoon been fired as pastor from his parish - an Anglo Catholic bastion on Long Island - because he, a celibate, had been asked if he was attracted to men or women. In honesty he said the former, and that was a bit much for the folks at St Fortescue on the North Fork. There was suddenly much anguish and chatter at the party and the guest left with others to plot a future. For fear of the same future, I broke down in the silence, and suddenly Linda was holding me as I cried for the all the crazy stuff in my heart, and all the ways I was sure God was calling me, and all that ways that doors could suddenly close.

Linda and her daughter departed on a vacation and I was left alone, minding their apartment on Chelsea Square: feeding the cat and spending my summer vacation on the property donated to the Episcopal Church by the author of A Visit from St Nicholas. I went out that night and got drunk, to be honest, drowning my sorrows and low self esteem in several local watering holes. I let myself back on to campus by the postern gate on 21st St and crashed out hot and wet in the dank night of a New York City summer.

Waking up too late the next morning I totally needed a shower. I woke dressed and hung over, but drowned sorrows only sink to the bottom, they are still there when the swamp is drained. I removed my clothes and stepped into the shower. At that moment, the Angelus rang from the Chapel, and I decided to go to Mass. I put on fresh clothes and went down to the square and went left into the Chapel.


Sitting in a stall, I was approached by the sacristan and asked if I would take the first lesson. I demurred because I was unshowered and not a seminarian, but I was told this was OK. At the appointed time I stepped up to the Bible and read the lesson from Isaiah appointed in the 1979 Book for the Feast of St Barnabas.
Thus says God, the LORD... who created the earth... who gives breath to the people upon it and spirit to those who walk in it: "I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you;... Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them." 
35 years later the Feast of St Barnabas came round again (on Monday) and I was remembering this event. I have a history of misreading moments like this. If that random, coincidental call to a Bible reading wasn't God telling me I was called, what was it? Why do I feel like such a huge failure after 25 years in Customer Service?

Today I'm reading that pivotal moment differently. All of life with its chances and changes is right there: "... I have taken you by the hand and kept you..." The clearest actions of God in that 1985 weekend was Linda holding me while I cried; me holding on to Linda's apartment and cat while she was gone; even the invite to come away from my small town in upstate New York and spend a week for free in New York City. All of that was the action of God, taking one by the hand.

This is what I'm learning from St Catherine of Siena: God gives us love and all we can do is give it away. God calls us each (even folks who can't or won't listen) to be loved by him. He is infinity itself, an infinity of Love. Our finite lives can never repay that love nor return it. So our love, our repayment of His love, must be lavished on those we find around us while expecting nothing in return save only more love from God himself; to send out even further. What if all our cravings for understanding and validation, all our desires for awards and participation trophies are but bad coverups for this one transubstantiational loop? God loves us and lavishes us with grace. He changes us into models of himself that we can likewise lavish others, aiding them in their theosis, by the love we pass on. The only place love can go is out and through.Yes we love God, but he has told us clearly that the only way to love Him is to love our neighbors. All our Godward worship is really God's us-ward charging of our batteries. When we are fully charged up, we are to turn and serve our neighbors. This action to others is the only love that reaches to God.


This is how customer service becomes a spiritual path, and Rick told me so two decades later, preaching from the howdah at St Gregory of Nyssa parish. What a customer needs and wants is not up to you to dictate. Service is all that is possible. Yes, there are rules beyond which we cannot go (support boundaries, as they are called in the trade). No customer will get beyond those - no matter how many times they ask to talk to a manager - the Customer is not always right. In the same way we cannot, in God's love, help our neighbor to sin, either.

Service is an act of Love. Rather, it can be as also professional hospitality can be an act of Love. Both of these can also be a painful, automatic business transaction. They are ideally a fully-human, generous action of Grace; just as a doctor can be cold, calculating, greedy, or caring, and either way still cure your lumbago. As God is holding us, we can hold others. We might not be able to make the pain stop (that's what people often want Customer Service Agents to do) but we can feel the pain with you, and move through the pain with human interaction. This can be stopped by unloving on either side of the conversation. God can take you by the hand, and put people in your path daily whom you are obligated to love, but you can make that obligation as joyful, or as much of a failure, as you wish.

And as true as it is of Customer Service, it is true of any other-facing job: yes, there are places where love is about as welcome as corporate espionage. I suggest Christians have no more place there than they do in the production of Adult Films. But for the other 90 percent of the darkening world, we can be light.

Bishop Barron, wrapping up the Q&A after his talk at the Googleplex, was asked, "How do you see our role as Catholic employees at Google?" The Bishop answered, (paraphrased because I can't take dictation) First, that you be a person of Love, wherever you find yourself. In any situation find the opportunity to love. Love is not a sentiment, it is to will the good of the other. Wherever you are, find the path of love and walk it. And, secondly, if someone is curious about you Catholicism, be ready with an answer. Love first, and be ready to give a reason for the hope that's in you.

This is the path of service, the Little Way of St Therese, the action of God holding is you holding someone, as Mary holds the God-Child who holds the cosmos.


10 June 2018

This sucks worse for me than for you.


JMJ
The Readings for  the 10th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Omnia enim propter vos : ut gratia abundans, per multos in gratiarum actione, abundet in gloriam Dei. 
For all things are for your sakes; that the grace abounding through many, may abound in thanksgiving unto the glory of God. 

This quote came across my Facebook yesterday. It's so un-American, so un-Modern, so un-Millenial, so un-Boomer, I had to share it. It is, really, very Xer, or so I think... and very "Greatest Generation" or "Silent Generation".  It's from St. Nikolai Velimirovich, an Orthodox Saint. Born in Serbia, he was imprisoned in the Dachau concentration camp then lived in the Communist Yugoslavia. He came to America after the war and died in Pennsylvania. 
Only the foolish think that suffering is evil. A sensible man knows that suffering is not evil but only the manifestation of evil and healing from evil. Only sin in a man is a real evil, and there is no evil outside sin. Everything else that men generally call evil is not, but is a bitter medicine to heal from evil. The sicker the man, the more bitter the medicine that the doctor prescribes for him. At times, even, it seems to a sick man that the medicine is worse and more bitter than the sickness itself! And so it seems at times to the sinner: the suffering is harder and more bitter than the sin committed. But this is only an illusion – a very strong self-delusion. There is no suffering in the world that could be anywhere near as hard and destructive as sin is. All the suffering borne by men and nations is none other than the abundant healing that eternal Mercy offers to men and nations to save them from eternal death. Every sin, however small, would inevitably bring death if Mercy were not to allow suffering in order to sober men up from the inebriation of sin; for the healing that comes through suffering is brought about by the gracefilled power of the Holy and Life-giving Spirit.
Let that sink in for a moment: from a man in a concentration camp:  "Only sin in a man is a real evil, and there is no evil outside sin. Everything else that men generally call evil is not, but is a bitter medicine to heal from evil." I think of all the "evils" we imagine today, from "hate speech" to "gun control", from "oppression" to "open borders", from nuclear war to ozone depletion, we are filled with things we think of as "evils". The only evil is sin. And nearly no one calls sins out as "evil" anymore for that would be "judging someone". Yet here's a man who has endured what I - and you, perhaps - would call the two greatest evils of the 20th century (Nazism and Communism) who says "Everything men call evil usually is only a bitter medicine to designed as a cure from evil." No body likes bitter medicine. Every day Christians pray for their rulers - even the "evil" ones: Caesars, Kaisers, Commissars, Fuhrers, and Trump.  God put them there for a reason.

And you might think it's evil... but are you saved yet?

St Paul says, "All things are for you." The implications are astounding. Sure, you might take the Oprah/Osteen line and opt for "only the things I want are for me..." but Paul says πάντα, panta, all things. All means all. That crappy email from a client, the customer yelling at your barista, the car that swiped in front of you and made you slow down, the smelly guy on the subway. We usually want to get rid of all these things. What about that political opponent that won, that lazy coworker that got a promotion, the doctor that charges too much money for the pills you need? What about that sleepless night worrying about nothing in particular that ruined your workday, or that unjust work situation that turned into the most grueling three days ever experienced? What about that family that is emotionally abusive, the pain that you still feel from that sports injury in school, the monotonous repetition of your job? All means all

I want to tell you that I'm not some wise man spouting on a mountain top. I can complain with the best of them. But Paul says all things are for your sakes and he means it. Think how many times this comes up through the New Testament writings: 

  • in all things thanksgiving...
  • all things work for the good of those who love the Lord...
  • count it all joy...
  • for I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature...

But we will stop everything for just a little bit of pleasure. And when we can't get the pleasure that we want, we complain we are being "oppressed" as if St Nikolai and his Dachau friends had nothing to compare to the folks at WalMart not saying "Merry Christmas". We will literally bend over backward and swallow hands-full of pain killer just to avoid feeling pain.

Paul says all things.