19 February 2018

How to Play Ball


+JMJ+

The 12th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.
Wherein we pray for our Conscience: that it may never be swift to judge what is the chaste thing to do, swifter still to execute it and wholly protected form all the assaults of demons.
We will all agree that Baseball has a certain set of rules and that when you change them or make up something we've stopped playing baseball and are on to something else. You can't for instance, play baseball with a pitcher who won't bat or with a batter who won't run. Nor can you play it with a football, or one of those two-ended pointy things Americans kick around.

We do, however, imagine religion to be different. We can make it up anyway we want. Some of us can even cite Catholic teaching on this. In his declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, Pope Paul VI said, 
On his part, man perceives and acknowledges the imperatives of the divine law through the mediation of conscience. In all his activity a man is bound to follow his conscience in order that he may come to God, the end and purpose of life. It follows that he is not to be forced to act in a manner contrary to his conscience. Nor, on the other hand, is he to be restrained from acting in accordance with his conscience, especially in matters religious. 
His late Holiness was making a point about two different things: no secular gov't has the power or authority to compel in matters of conscience; nor has the Church any obligation to retreat from her claims to teach the full truth of Jesus Christ. The Pope also acknowledged that at times the Church had forgone the evangelistic examples of Christ and his Apostles and opted, instead, to - essentially - have secular gov't pass laws that compel in matters of conscience. I like to call this absentee evangelism.

This is not, however, a call for the Catholic to do whatever she wants. These two teachings, in concert with the Church's tradition, were balanced by a reminder in the same document:
In order to be faithful to the divine command, "teach all nations" (Matt. 28:19-20), the Catholic Church must work with all urgency and concern "that the word of God be spread abroad and glorified" (2 Thess. 3:1). Hence the Church earnestly begs of its children that, "first of all, supplications, prayers, petitions, acts of thanksgiving be made for all men.... For this is good and agreeable in the sight of God our Savior, who wills that all men be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:1-4). In the formation of their consciences, the Christian faithful ought carefully to attend to the sacred and certain doctrine of the Church.(35) For the Church is, by the will of Christ, the teacher of the truth. It is her duty to give utterance to, and authoritatively to teach, that truth which is Christ Himself, and also to declare and confirm by her authority those principles of the moral order which have their origins in human nature itself. Furthermore, let Christians walk in wisdom in the face of those outside, "in the Holy Spirit, in unaffected love, in the word of truth" (2 Cor. 6:6-7), and let them be about their task of spreading the light of life with all confidence(36) and apostolic courage, even to the shedding of their blood.
The disciple is bound by a grave obligation toward Christ, his Master, ever more fully to understand the truth received from Him, faithfully to proclaim it, and vigorously to defend it, never-be it understood-having recourse to means that are incompatible with the spirit of the Gospel. At the same time, the charity of Christ urges him to love and have prudence and patience in his dealings with those who are in error or in ignorance with regard to the faith. All is to be taken into account-the Christian duty to Christ, the life-giving word which must be proclaimed, the rights of the human person, and the measure of grace granted by God through Christ to men who are invited freely to accept and profess the faith. (Double emphasis added.)

The Christian, having made a choice for Christ, is called to continually offer up his freedom to be more and more conformed to the will of God. You can't play baseball with some guy picked to play half the pitcher's game, nor can you make a Designated Protestant Doctrine in matters of faith against the Church's teaching. The Church cannot use secular Authority to compel in matters of conscience, but she is not compelling the Christian who has settle the question for himself and already made a choice declaring, Domine Deus, firma fide Credo et Confiteor omnia et singula quae Sancta Ecclesia Catholica proponit quia tu, Deus, ea omnia revelasti, qui es aeterna veritas et sapientia, quae nec fallere nec falli potest. Lord God, with a firm trust I believe each and every proposition of the Holy Catholic Church because you, God, have revealed them all, you who are eternal truth and wisdom, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. We then add, In hoc fide vivere et mori statuo. In this faith I will live and die. We've made a choice already. Our job in God's grace is to stick to it.

The Prophet Samuel makes a bold statement to King Saul, who has disobeyed God. Quoniam quasi peccatum ariolandi est, repugnare: et quasi scelus idololatriæ, nolle acquiescere.  Because it is like the sin of witchcraft, to rebel: and like the crime of idolatry, to refuse to obey. 

What had the King done? Saul was given a clear command of God to kill all the Amalekites and destroy all their wealth. But he ignored that and - doing what any good war leader would do - he allowed for there to be plunder. Saul's defended his choice by saying that the men had made sacrifices from the plunder. So they had paid their tithe, as it were. They gave thanks to God. Samuel goes to Saul to say look, you have sinned in disobeying God, and Saul's reply is very telling: his men took sheep "to offer sacrifice to the Lord their God" which must be good, right? (Now a sacrifice would be a feast for a family, so, yes, "to the Lord" but also "for all of us...") They were not, you know, really disobedient. They were doing something good. 

Samuel says, no, that's not the case. Doing what you are told is good. Disobedience is always bad. How bad? Samuel compares it to Witchcraft and to Idolatry. We might argue at this point about the "Primacy of Conscience" whereby even an "erring conscience is binding".  And so we must follow our conscience.  No one can compel...

To this Aquinas says "if erring reason [that is, the conscience - DHR] tell a man that he should go to another man's wife, the will that abides by that erring reason is evil; since this error arises from ignorance of the Divine Law, which he is bound to know." (Summa II.i.19.6) The Catholic teaching is not that the Conscience will always lead us right, but rather that a Conscience, properly formed by the Church into conformity with the Law of God will always lead us right. As Catholics, we must submit to the teaching of the Church even if our erring conscience would lead us elsewhere. We reform the conscience, we train it up in the ways of the Lord. We do so for the inculcation of virtue, whereby the knowing and doing of the Good becomes effortless.


Sometimes God commands things that are hard. That's the way things go. But it is impossible for God to command what is untrue, unjust, or evil, for God is goodness, truth and justice in his person. We cannot fail in love, in truth, justice, or goodness by following God's commands. It is better to follow these commands than to make up stuff on our own. Aquinas, again, "The eternal law cannot err, but human reason can. Consequently the will that abides by human reason, is not always right, nor is it always in accord with the eternal law."

Jesus walks us down this path as well, with an interesting saying about sewing and vintnering. 
Nemo assumentum panni rudis assuit vestimento veteri: alioquin aufert supplementum novum a veteri, et major scissura fit. No man seweth a piece of raw cloth to an old garment: otherwise the new piecing taketh away from the old, and there is made a greater rent.

Saul wants to take what he knows about running an army and do - mostly - what God has commanded. Our temptation always is to say that we can take our old lifestyle, our old patterns of thinking and just sew on a Christian patch. We can oppress the poor and deny our workers their wages as a Christian. We can be racist as a Christian. We can seek wealth as an end as a Christian. We can do sex outside of Marriage as a Christian. We can do sex inside a Marriage with contraception as a Christian. Samuel compares all of this to Witchcraft and Idolatry. We might as well do fortune telling and play with the Ouija boards and burn incense to Kuan Yin.


Jesus is clear: our old things will tear apart from the patch, our wineskins will burst spoiling both the wineskins and the wine.


When our conscience wants us to go against God, it is our job to reform the conscience. Not to make an idol of our will, nor to say, with Luther, "Hier stehe ich. Ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir." (God help me be standing here against God?) Rather we are to say, with David, 
Concupivi salutare tuum, Domine, et lex tua meditatio mea est. Vivet anima mea, et laudabit te, et judicia tua adjuvabunt me. Erravi sicut ovis quæ periit: quære servum tuum, quia mandata tua non sum oblitus. I have longed for thy salvation, O Lord; and thy law is my meditation. My soul shall live and shall praise thee: and thy judgments shall help me. I have gone astray like a sheep that is lost: seek thy servant, because I have not forgotten thy commandments.

We form the conscience this way. We meditate on the law of God - not to find loopholes or ways around it, but to grow in it. We need our conscience. It is a gift from God to walk us through this world. We train our conscience properly because we know we are fallen, but when push comes to shove, we pray it will guide us right. Only a properly trained conscience can guide all the time. For some God's grace even reaches in: St Paul says the Law of God is written on their hearts and they obey even without knowing. But for those of us who struggle he says it's even possible for our conscience to become seared as with a hot iron so that we no longer feel any compulsion to the Good and just do whatever we feel like. Those of us who come late in life to this Confraternity may well know what this means, as huge parts of the conscience, like scars, must be cut off and healed by God's grace so that they can be rehabilitated; so that the conscience can once again be submitted to God's will without compulsion, but in love.

By way of Postscript: Absentee Evangelism. I think the churches have long be satisfied with laws that laid a Christian Veneer on Society. Blue laws, that kept businesses closed on Sunday, eventually fell. But why do Christians now, as well, shop on Sunday? As long as no one could do anything on a Sunday, no one bothered to talk about it. But the Church failed as teacher because even when the secular laws changed, Christians should still be respecting the Sabbath, right? The veneer removed, we discovered we had long all been pagans together. We should be more like the National League who did not fall to the temptations offered by the wealthier American League (even though that cheating has given them a two series advantage since 1973...).

We can totally ignore this part...


JMJ
The Readings for Monday, 1st Week of Lent (B2)
Et ibunt hi in supplicium aeternum : justi autem in vitam aeternam.
And these shall go into everlasting punishment: but the just, into life everlasting. 

A friend outside of Catholic Mass, gathering signatures for helping the homeless was told by a parishioner, "No, I don't care about homeless children, homeless families, or homeless anything." The man said this after receiving the Sacrament and my friend couldn't tell if he was joking or not so she joked back. Sadly, the man was very serious. Really, though, why should these verses be any more important than any other part of the teaching which, for American and European Catholics from Nancy Pelosi to me in the pew with you decide we can ignore most of the time?

All post-modern Theologians from James Allison and James Martin to Rob Bell and Dominic Crossan are quite clear that God doesn't care what we do, God loves us anyway, and that when it's all over these random verses in the Bible are just legalistic verbiage that people use to beat each other up. We should stop using the Bible that way.

So, we can ignore the poor.

Have a blessed Lent.

Don't worry: be happy.

If the scriptural moral code is optional, why are these verses more important? The same God who said, "Do not defraud the laborer his wages" and "when I was hungry you fed me" also said, "go and sin no more" and a whole lot of old fashioned "thou shalt nots..." we don't like nowadays. Who is to say action X is good as compared to action Y? This is what none of my post-trad Christ-follower friends have ever been able to answer to me. Which is why I drifted trad-ward.

It's ok: God doesn't care, don't worry. Be happy. Also worth noting: there are folks do totally ignore this part - and the part about unjust wages - and only focus on the other things. They're in the same camp as the first group. And both groups pretend to be better than the other.



18 February 2018

Preaching to those in Prison

JMJ
The Readings for the 1st Sunday of Lent (B2)
In quo et his, qui in carcere erant, spiritibus veniens praedicavit : qui increduli fuerant aliquandont"
In which also coming he preached to those spirits that were in prison: Which had been some time incredulous. 

This passage from St Peter is rather rough, depending on who is doing the parsing out. It seems to say that Jesus preached to those in prison (unbelievers who had been there since the days of Noah).  Or does it say Jesus preached to the unbelievers souls in prison (and then something else about Noah)? Or does it say Jesus preached to the souls in prison (who are somehow connected to those who didn't believe Noah in his time)? Or does it use those who doubted Noah as a figure for all of those who even now do not believe? And that is my reading here. All those souls in prison.  And even now. This is not "hell" as such, although another name for hell is "Tartarus" which is a "place of restraint". So preaching to the Souls in restraint... but unbelief is hell. So: all of us (Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.)

I've been thinking about things lately. And after the shooting this week I remembered an article, tweeted by my friend, Steve, out there in cyberspace.  Steve asked if you could imagine preaching the gospel in this nation (some highlights):
America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society...
...So there is of course also an “opioid epidemic”. We use that phrase too casually, but it much more troubling than it appears on first glance. Here is what is really curious about it. In many countries in the world — most of Asia and Africa — one can buy all the opioids one wants from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet we don’t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America — especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink life expectancy. So the “opioid epidemic” — mass self-medication with the hardest of hard drugs — is again a social pathology of collapse: unique to American life...
These two factoid-heavy paragraphs got me but there are others in the article (go read it, seriously). And of course there was a shooting this week, and there was all the usual US vrs Them political ax-grinding silliness that comes out of it. And I thought of these factoids again. And naturally the shooting happens on Ash Wednesday. Which, if you're not a Catholic-minded Christian, is like discovering a death metal concert in the basement of a rented space where you're attending your grandmother's funeral. It makes you angry and then you realize you're not supposed to be angry and then you're angry and then you realize...

There is a lot of Tartarus in America right now - restraint. It's not caused by Government, or anyone in power: because those folks, too, are suffering from it. I saw hell, once on a recent bus ad: a woman looking like she had a gun to her back and was told to smile getting all excited about a garbage truck coming to take away her junk. We are making this world, ourselves. You can see hell anytime you want by going to the Apple Store: a couple of hundred people waiting to buy the Next Greatest Thing which - you can tell if you look at them - they all know will be useless in 6 months. It's torture to stand and watch.

Thursday, walking to Mass I passed an honest to goodness Robot on Howard Street. It was carrying a book bag and was followed by a minder looking at his phone as he walked, looking supremely bored. That's what it's like to be prepping for the next six month release in the Apple Store. Howard Street: The runway to hell.


Rereading that article, the author gives America too much credit. We have seen these Pathologies before: the greed and predatory indifference that ate up an entire world. It started just before Cicero laments at the passing of the Republic and climaxed with Caligula. And that was when the 400 year long collapse was just starting. Augustine was still mourning it. Or think of Egypt, passing from Pharaoh to the Ptolemies, ending up with the drug-addled princess Cleopatra.

And in that world of decline, death, and darkness, comes Jesus preaching to the souls in prison. We've totally been here before. And we get here every time we turn from God and start amassing metric tons of useless disposable trash in the centers of our personal global empires

A famous San Franciscan, Harvey Milk, once gave a speech where, to be honest, he'd probably be angry I'm quoting it, but anyway, he pitted all the "us" folks against the "them" folks. And since I have deeply loved friends on both sides of Harvey's divide (now and in 1977), I take it personal that he divided the world that way and I refuse to do so. But he said:
The only thing they have to look forward to is hope. And you have to give them hope. Hope for a better world, hope for a better tomorrow, hope for a better place to come to if the pressures at home are too great. Hope that all will be all right. Without hope... the “us-es” will give up....  I know that you can’t live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living. And you, and you, and you… have got to give them hope.
Where is there hope in this world of robots and disposable thousand dollar toys? Can you not divide the world into Us and Them? Can we remember that every "them" once was an "us" to their parents and can we love them back home? Can you remember that Every Last Them - even the most deplorable - is a deeply loved and terribly important "us" to God? Refusal to do so makes you the "them" here and so God loves you all the more.

If hope is built on other humans building new things, then there's no hope because all humans fail. We'll next be excited about the garbage truck coming and of America is just the Empire waiting to fall, I live in Rome. 

And still there's Jesus, speaking to the Souls "In Prison". Those who waited for God incredulously. That's the entire world today. Harvey classed himself and a lot of his "Us-es" into those exact incredulous chains, although unintentionally.

Christian: what are we going to do about this? Lent is here. Our 40 days of fast and prayer. What are we doing to weave real, honest-to-God hope into the fabric of our daily life - hope so strong that others catch it? How is your fasting from chocolate or coffee going to help with all this mess? Is this loving your neighbor? Is this making your loving more real, more present today than it was yesterday?

17 February 2018

Who's Coming to Dinner?


JMJ
The Readings for the Saturday after Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at San Augustino
Et fecit ei convivium magnum Levi in domo sua : et erat turba multa publicanorum, et aliorum qui cum illis erant discumbentes.
And Levi made him a great feast in his own house; and there was a great company of publicans, and of others, that were at table with them. 

My grandfather died in 2002. On the first anniversary of his death, I went to my new priest, Fr V, and asked if we could have a Panikhida said for him. This is a memorial service prayed after death and on the anniversary every year. It's not a mass or full-on requiem. It takes about 15-20 mins to sing. But it's a nice memorial. Many ultra-Orthodox do not allow such things to be prayed for Protestants, so I asked Fr V if one would be possible. Of course! Why not? Because he was not Orthodox, Father. His reply, which I can still hear, "Raphael, if we didn't pray for the non-Orthodox, who would we have to pray for?"

Jesus sits and eats with anyone. This table fellowship (which is not the same as communion fellowship - which he shares only with his apostles) is an important hallmark of Jesus' ministry. This eating-with the unclean was a serious thing. It proceeds through the New Testament, marking not that "there is no chosen people" any more, but the realization that we are all sinners.  Jesus is God, communing with us. We find in that not only our salvation, but the will, the desire to eat with others.

But Jesus' actions are not isolated one-offs. We must eat with sinners too, not just nightly at the supper table, but in all parts of our lives. We don't just eat with sinners because we are sinners, we are evangelizing. In fact, since communion fellowship is becoming at-one with Christ in the Holy Mysteries, we can say that Table Fellowship is Christ continuing his work of evangelism. By inviting strangers to eat with me, Christ continues to eat with us sinners. This invitation to fellowship is a covert invitation to come see a Christian up close. Isaiah wants someone who will feed the hungry and keep the Sabbath. We are to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God - ie be generous and easy to all except in the first person. Eating with sinners does not override the universal call to holiness, but it does focus it in the first person. We must each be able to say, "We're all called to sainthood, you're closer than I will ever be."

My friend, T, used to get on the Subway in NYC with a bag of Sandwiches. He would give a sandwich to anyone who needed (or just wanted) food. And he would take money from anyone who would donate to help. There's a model for you. My friend, J, would make piles of pancakes on Saturday Mornings and give them away in a park in San Francisco until he was out. Who's coming to dinner? Or Lunch? Or coffee with you? Don't just give 'em $5, bring them to Taco Bell and ask what's up with their lives. Awkward for everyone, I know. But so good for everyone too.

Of course, it's Lent, so I talked about food.

16 February 2018

Why We Fast


JMJ
The Readings for the Friday after Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at Santi Giovanni e Paulo
Ecce ad lites et contentiones jejunatis, et percutitis pugno impie.  
Behold you fast for debates and strife. and strike with the fist wickedly.

I have to be fast. It's far too late for me to be up writing. So, here's a sketch.  On Ash Wednesday, an Atheist tweeted something mildly off-putting to a Catholic Nun. And Catholic Twitter played Dogpile on the Rabbit. Then, for most of yesterday, there was some fight between two groups who shall remain nameless. All in all it's been a good Christian Lent already, here on Day Three.

St John says "let the mouth fast from criticism..."

St Paul says (in I Corinthians 6:1) Audet aliquis vestrum habens negotium adversus alterum, judicari apud iniquos, et non apud sanctos? Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to be judged before the unjust, and not before the saints? 

And yet we expose each other before the Unjust on Twitter and Facebook.

And that's only after one day of fasting for most of us, because the Roman Practice in the USA is Way Lenient.

Food, however, is not the point, as St John says and so does Isaiah. 

Look, I know: it's the internet and everyone does it. I do it, making fun of My Favorite Martin. Forgive me. I don't mention it to scandalize anyone, but to say there's a difference between mature adult discussion of faith and disagreements entre nous and airing our dirty laundry where the media and the nattering nabobs of negativity can get at it.

So rend your hearts (and not the garments of the church). We totally have work to do before we can get to our Easter Joy:
Dissolve colligationes impietatis, solve fasciculos deprimentes, dimitte eos qui confracti sunt liberos, et omne opus dirumpe; frange esurienti panem tuum, et egenos vagosque induc in domum tuam; cum videris nudum, operi eum, et carnem tuam ne despexeris. Loose the bands of wickedness, undo the bundles that oppress, let them that are broken go free, and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and the harbourless into thy house: when thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. 
One reason for giving up actual food during lent (and not chocolate or coffee, etc) is so that there is actually money left in your hands to feed the poor. As the Pope has taught: after you pay your bills, and set aside a small stash for emergencies, the rest of your money is for feeding the poor.

Fr Alexander Schmemann said the same: after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations.

So giving up the food is logical - as would be giving up netflix, or internet etc, as long as it saved you money to give to the poor.

Peace.

Stop fighting with each other.
Stop fighting in public.
Feed some poor people with your left-over money.


15 February 2018

There's a better choice...


JMJ
The Readings for the Thursday after Ash Wednesday
Station at San Giorgio 
Qui enim voluerit animam suam salvam facere, perdet illam.
For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it.

There is the most wonderful word play here, in the Greek. Our Lord says, in 3 short verses (from 22-25), that  anyone who wants to follow Jesus must... 

Deny himself  (v. 23) 
Take up the cross 
Trying to save his life he will lose his life (v. 24a)
But losing his life he will save his life (v. 24b) 
Who cares if he gains the whole world
If his self is destroyed (v25) 

See those two couplets? 

Deny self - take up cross : gain world - self destroyed
save life - lose life : lose life - save life

The Greek seems to make the parallels using two Greek words, one for soul (rendered "life" in the English, but as soul in the Latin) and another word for self. The NABRE follows the Douay here, both sticking to "life" even through the Greek and Latin say "soul" 

I could venture that we are to read "soul" (or "life") and "self" as the same thing. But words are chosen for a reason by their writers. What it "self" means a little less than "soul"? I think it's important that the two choices are "Deny self" or "Self is destroyed" Either way the self goes away, right? Whereas the soul can be saved or lost, the self, not so much. You can gain the whole world and yourself is still going to be lost.

What is the difference between "self" and "soul"?

The Fathers speak of a sort of false self constructed when the passions run amok. If you've ever been addicted to nicotine (as I was for a long time) you might be able to relate - especially if you've joined the unhooked generation and kicked the habit. Those first few days/weeks of not smoking, you get lost or angry and eventually realize this is a nicotine fit. The difference between "normal you" and "you in a nicotine fit" is also the difference between "normal you" and "you on cigarettes." You just never noticed it. But your friends did: in Starhawk's Dreaming the Dark (I think... it may have been the next one) she says that if you want to know what is wrong with your presentation, go stand outside with the smokers. Then she comments: "I don't know if cynics become smokers or smokers become cynics." Either way, today I would reply, "Ex-smokers don't have time for that crap, Sister." That cynic is a false self, the "you on cigarettes". 

All the passions from anger to sex to bickering on facebook create a false self that we nurture and defend and risk our lives for. When we stop whatever it is to just "be ourself", the difference between normal you and you stressed out without your favorite self-medication is exactly parallel to the difference between you on your self-med and the real you. 

When we stand up at the cross and nail our false self to it... and let it die... then Christ can live through us: Christ, the Logos of all Creation, is our true self. St Paul says, "I am crucified with Christ and yet I live, not I but Christ who lives within me."

The Cross is our model, our protection. Letting go the "self": ideas of who "I am" and "what defines me", letting go of all the things that make me prideful and unloving, taking up, finally, the only sign of hope we have: the Cross of Christ on which he - like all men - must die in order to bring salvation and on which we - united with our God - will live forever.

It's a curious interchange: giving up self for soul. The soul may be weak when this process starts. What passed for living before is now not part of the deal. Seen for a crutch, though, we toss it aside and now without it we limp. But Christ the eternal healer can work with us on that: whatever the "soul" version of "rehabilitation therapist" is, Christ is that. He gives us stretches to do, people to love, mercy to perform, and gradually our soul gets stronger until we rest in him for all our strength.

We need no "self" other than Christ. And we have no self other than this thing that will die. Better to go with the ever-living one!

14 February 2018

This week was next week last week.

JMJ
The Readings for Ash Wednesday (B2)
Station at Santa Sabina
Ecce nunc tempus acceptabile, ecce nunc dies salutis.
Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

What is your life worth today?
What if I told you it is worth an infinity of love and light.
That all the death you have ever eaten and all the light you have ever snuffed out.
Is ready to be turned to Life and Light by he who is Life and Light himself.

All the doors you've ever slammed shut.
All the escape hatches you've sealed.
All the bridges you've burnt.
To lock yourself away.
To hide yourself.
To close yourself off.
Can be blown open, repaired, and repurposed.

All the hate you've received.
All the lies you've been told.
All the pain that has been inflicted on you.
Can be healed and given to you as Strength for the Journey.

There is nothing that cannot be done today, not because it is Ash Wednesday, but because it is Today.

Today is the only day of all eternity on which any of these are possible.

Today. Tomorrow is the stuff of pride - even "I will see you tomorrow" is hella prideful. Yesterday is not a day on which action is possible. Today.

So NOW is the day of salvation. Paul said that at at time when a letter might take weeks or months to get to where it was going. When is now? It is always now.

Sorry for all the Timey Wimey stuff. But it is now Ash Wednesday again, as it has been in the Liturgical West since the 8th Century, at least, back before the Schism. It's a way to make holy the passage of time between now and Easter. 

What is salvation? Today is the day, but what is it? In short it is the Human Being, restoring the Icon of God (which we all bear) and doing the work of God, which is Love, yes, but a very special kind of Love. In customer service (where I've been for 25 years, give or take) we use a special sort of skill called Unconditional Positive Regard.  It's defined as "Unconditional positive regard, a concept developed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers, is the basic acceptance and support of a person regardless of what the person says or does." This way you can deal with customers, assuming their best intentions, and always leading them to the best choices made in their relationship with your company. Some agents do this better than others, to be honest, but most of us do it, also, as a means of self defense: I can interact with you on a professional level without having to emotionally get involved.

It is to be noted that this is not love. It is also to be noted that this is, basically, the attitude of most of our culture. This is why crying on the subway is, basically, a breaking of the rules. Nearly all of us want to help someone who is hurting... or in danger... but we can't let anyone else see our involvement. We play the Unconditional Positive Regard card and we benignly pass by. We do this for homeless families on the street. We do this for elderly folks who need a seat on the subway (when no kids will get up). We do this when people are rude to one another. We just smile and decide not to judge and benignly pass by.

Love would leap to the defense of the injured.
Love would sacrifice itself for the good of the other (even if the good wasn't willed by the other).
Love would rather die than see someone else do so.

Love is not Unconditional Positive Regard and this is life, not a call center phone call. Life and death hang in the balance when most of us wake up. And for many of us, by the end of the day, death has won and there is no tomorrow ever. 

Love then, is the benchmark. God is love, but specifically, God is this this self-emptying love as the Father pours out everything on the Son and the Son pours it back to the Father and on us in the person of the Holy Spirit. God empties himself and models for us the same resources. Love dares for us to pour ourselves out in a constant stream of giving!

This constant loving, self giving, pour out of all our self for the good of another: this is love and this is salvation.

Imagine if every Christian could work in one act of love a day from to Lent's end in Holy Week. Imagine that, trickling out across the culture, across the world. Today. Now. Here.

Now is the day of salvation.

There is a custom among the Byzantines that the vespers on the night before Lent begins, all the congregation gathers round the church and begs forgiveness each of the other. And each, prostrating, says, "Forgive me, a sinner." and the other says the same, and they embrace saying, "God forgives, and I forgive." This custom is, it seems to me, worthy of all men to be received: that we should start Lent asking forgiveness. We don't just skip over someone who is a good friend and "I know I've done nothing to hurt them..." for all sins hurt all of us. Every sin I commit draws the venom of evil just a bit deeper into our common life. So even the sins I commit and take to confession so that the only folks who know are me and the priest... they hurt us all. 

So forgive me. All of it. I know bunches. And some of you know me well enough to be affected by it. I beg your prayers.