23 May 2018

Deus Vult!

JMJ
The Readings for Wednesday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
Si Dominus voluerit. Et : Si vixerimus, faciemus hoc, aut illud. 
 If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that. 

I watched the Pope Francis movie last Saturday. One of the things it did was provide a huge amount of context for some of the Liberal Press' favourite Francis quotes. The one that got me in the solar plexus was a rather loaded question about "the gay lobby" in the Church. It was presented on the airplane in rather oleaginous manner by an obsequious woman who felt she had to ask "permission to ask a question about a very delicate matter..." and then asked His Holiness how he was going to "confront the gay lobby in the church". In the days of my political activism, having heard many such questions, I would have said "hater". In this case, I won't say that because being close to power makes us all very odd - as does being a journalist. Every journalist wants the Power to Say Something and to get kudos from their fellows for getting a good quote.

When confronted by such a disingenuous question the Pope let fly. The question, which, for all that it was well-oiled and fully pumped up with big words, really should be translated as, "Will you tell gay people to get out of the church?" The reply - now well known - was sound bitten as "who am I to judge?" Yet in full context the reply was a reminder to the journalist, to everyone on the flight, and to the rest of us, that God calls us all to holiness. There were quotes from the catechism, and a good bit of puffing from the Holy Father. It doesn't matter where you start the walk, or how long it takes to get there, it's where you end that's important. And the Pope was asking in reply that if someone who identifies as Gay is sincerely seeking the Lord, who is he (or any of us) to judge? There are a lot of folks in the Church - gay and straight - who are not seeking the Lord at all. We have more to worry about. Yes, who am I to judge, but also, who are you to judge? 

Within the last couple of days Pope Francis has said something that has been reported as "God makes some people gay."  I've been asked what I thought about it and, since I don't believe in ontological differences based on sexual desire, I think it's a fair question for me. And, coincidentally, here comes today's reading from St James:
Behold, now you that say: Today or tomorrow we will go into such a city, and there we will spend a year, and will traffic, and make our gain. Whereas you know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is a vapour which appeareth for a little while, and afterwards shall vanish away. For that you should say: If the Lord will, and if we shall live, we will do this or that.
This passage reminds me that we don't get to pick the events in our lives. We only get to pick the way we react to them. There is a line used by the Orthodox to discuss both the Fall of Constantinople to the Turks and also the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia: these God allowed to happen to the Church "because of our sins".  Oddly this same line is never used to discuss the sack of Constantinople by the Latins which can be traced exactly to a political power play inside the Byzantine world that resulted in a bunch of Angry Latins. Does God allow political falls or not? Am I who I am because God made me this way? Does such formation happen at such an early age that it's not possible to answer such a question?

It God wills and we live, we shall...

We are not trapped into our choices: but we are not in control of events. Does God make your parents get divorced? Or does God allow it to happen? Is some part of the "what makes me gay" having been raised by a single mother? Or having been abandoned by her? The divine pattern is not what makes us: it is the matrix in which we are made by our choices and our dance. 

In the larger context of Catholic teaching the Pope has said nothing new. God made me. God loves me. Because I have been raised by Christian parents in a Christian context this is not news to me. Even though my family and my churches growing up had some messed up ways of showing that love, they inculcated that knowledge in me. The older I get, the more I realize that my identity, my sense of self, my actions must all be in response to that primordial knowledge. God made me. God loves me. While I have some seriously rough places of selfishness, of dysfunction, of brokenness, of scars from my past - caused by others and by my own bad choices - I have a daily choice: do I act from those places, or do I act from the knowledge that God made me and God loves me? 

I can freely decide to make any corner of my being the very center and prime directive of my life. Or if God wills and we shall live,  I can act from that knowledge that God made me and God loves me.

I'm with the Pope on this one.

21 May 2018

Cheating on my Husband.

JMJ
The Readings for Tuesday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
Adulteri, nescitis quia amicitia hujus mundi inimica est Dei? quicumque ergo voluerit amicus esse saeculi hujus, inimicus Dei constituitur.
Adulterers, know you not that the friendship of this world is the enemy of God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of this world, becometh an enemy of God. 

When James uses the word "adulterers" here, he means we are not being faithful to our relationship with God. We may think we're being polyamorous but God wants us all to himself. We're cheating on him.

I never know how to navigate this. Look sex I can handle. Racism, Ecology, Peace, Justice... this I can handle. But when someone asks me where I want to be in 5 years time, the answer has always been "closer to heaven". In as much as I've always wanted to be a priest, I don't have any map for success, or any idea of what it would look like. Increasingly, though, as that goal seems less and less likely, I've listened to my friend, Steve Robinson: 

  • I need to be an adult: 
    • pay my bills, 
    • say my prayers, 
    • support my parish, 
    • and love my parents. 
In as much as the Church's preferential option must be for the poor, my every breath must be exhausted defending them, supporting them, sacrificing for them. Since I am a single man with no family to support I have more of an obligation to do so than someone with kids and the added vocational direction of supporting his family.

But every paycheck that comes in means I can buy more toys, or save for my future. Every meeting with a manager is a chance to succeed, every business deal with a deal worth making.

And I don't know what counts as friend of this world in this context. When I sit in my own apartment not only do I feel alone most nights, I also feel like I'm wasting money. The question for me is not should I be living in a community and donating more money and time to the mission of the Church but rather how can I make this happen?

This is the part is that is most painful for me: the part that feels like a failure. I've become successful and so as much as I thank God for this success, I also feel like a hypocrite in doing so. It's not an ambivalent relationship to worldly success but rather a train wreck of an illicit affair. Back in September I posted all that follows: it's a way to not be an adulterer. It starts with a quite from Blessed John Henry Cardinal Newman:

God has created me to do Him some definite service; He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission — I never may know it in this life, but I shall be told it in the next. Somehow I am necessary for His purposes, as necessary in my place as an Archangel in his — if, indeed, I fail, He can raise another, as He could make the stones children of Abraham. Yet I have a part in this great work; I am a link in a chain, a bond of connexion between persons. He has not created me for naught. I shall do good, I shall do His work; I shall be an angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep His commandments and serve Him in my calling.
The thing that I see there, that is the most important, is that Blessed John Henry doesn't send you out on some Vocational Discernment Weekend, nor does he say you need to go hide in the desert until some vision strikes you: only, I shall be a angel of peace, a preacher of truth in my own place, while not intending it, if I do but keep his commandments and serve him in my calling,  by which last he means "in my daily work".

Elsewhere in this same book, (Meditations and Devotions) he offers a very simple rule of life - as quoted by the Catholic Gentleman - to direct us all on the way to Sainthood. Not nominal, least-common denominator mushiness, mind you, but full-on sainthood:
  • Do not lie in bed beyond the due time of rising;
  • give your first thoughts to God;
  • make a good visit to the Blessed Sacrament;
  • say the Angelus devoutly;
  • eat and drink to God’s glory;
  • say the Rosary well;
  • be recollected; keep out bad thoughts;
  • make your evening meditation well;
  • examine yourself daily;
  • go to bed in good time, and you are already perfect.
To this I would add this simple rule, offered by Alexander Schmemann in his journals (Mindul that he was writing privately, yes, but to a hypothetical reader who - like me - was craving monastic obedience as the magic panacea for whatever it is that ails you):
  • get a job, if possible the simplest one, without creativity (for example as a cashier in a bank);
  • while working, pray and seek inner peace; do no get angry; do not think of yourself (rights, fairness, etc.). Accept everyone (coworkers, clients) as someone sent to you; pray for them;
  • after paying for a modest apartment and groceries, give your money to the poor; to individuals rather than foundations;
  • always go to the same church and there try to be a real helper, not by lecturing about spiritual life or icons, not by teaching but with a “dust rag” (cf. St Seraphim of Sarov). Keep at that kind of service and be–in church matters–totally obedient to the parish priest.
  • do not thrust yourself and your service on anyone; do not be sad that your talents are not being used; be helpful; serve where needed and not where you think you are needed;
  • read and learn as much as you can; do not read only monastic literature, but broadly (this point needs more precise definition);
  • if friends and acquaintances invite you because they are close to you–go; but not too often, and within reason. Never stay more than one and a half or two hours. After that the friendliest atmosphere becomes harmful;
  • dress like everybody else, but modestly, and without visible signs of a special spiritual life;
  • be always simple, light, joyous. Do not teach. Avoid like the plague any “spiritual” conversations and any religious or churchly idle talk. If you act that way, everything will be to your benefit;
  • do not seek a spiritual elder or guide. If he is needed, God will send him, and will send him when needed;
  • having worked and served this way for ten years–no less–ask God whether you should continue to live this way, or whether change is needed. And wait for an answer: it will come; the signs will be “joy and peace in the Holy Spirit.”
You can grow and use all your gifts this way. 

And if you can't then try again. Be faithful in piety and love, God will give you ways to use your gifts and you will always see them and fulfill them.


Now: I fail in this daily, but I don't feel like a "failure" in this. All I need is more folks to join me.


Shine! Shine, O New Jerusalem

JMJ
The Readings for Mary, Mother of the Church
Monday in the Week of Pentecost (B2)
Diligit Dominus portas Sion super omnia tabernacula Jacob. Gloriosa dicta sunt de te, civitas Dei! Numquid Sion dicet : Homo et homo natus est in ea? et ipse fundavit eam Altissimus.
The Lord loveth the gates of Sion above all the tabernacles of Jacob. Glorious things are said of thee, O city of God. Shall not Sion say: This man and that man is born in her? and the Highest himself hath founded her. 

In the Eastern Rite, there is a hymn sung at every Divine Liturgy during the Easter Season. In part, it runs:

Shine! Shine
O, New Jerusalem!
The glory of the Lord
Has shown, on you!

This hymn, seemingly (and truly) about the City in the book of St John's Apocalypse, is in fact a hymn about the Mother of God. In full it runs like this:



The Angel cried to the Lady full of Grace
Rejoice, O Pure Virgin! 
Again I say: Rejoice! 
Your Son is risen from His three days in the tomb! 
With Himself He has raised all the dead! 
Rejoice, all you people!
Shine! Shine 
O New Jerusalem! 
The Glory of the Lord 
has shone on you! 
Exult now, exult 
and be glad, O Zion! 
Be radiant, 
O Pure Theotokos, 
in the Resurrection of your Son!


The interplay of images is important: the New Jerusalem is the Church; it is also the Theotokos, the Dei Para, Mary, the Mother of God. Mary is the birth-giver of God, the church is his body, Mary is the Mother of the Church. In the Resurrection of Christ, the Church rises from the dead as well and Mary, who is both a member of the Church and the Mother of the Church, draws us all upward in her sinlessness. This rich interplay of images is brought to the West today with a new feast, instituted by Pope Francis: the Memorial of Mary the Mother of the Church.

The title itself predates the feast going back before the Schism between East and West. Yet liturgically this title had to wait until Pope St John Paul II added the "Mother of the Church" to the Litany of the Blessed Virgin Mary in 1980.

All of the Psalms are prophecy of Christ: so, taking the city of Jerusalem as a type of the Blessed Virgin, we see in today's Responsorial Psalm that the Lord loves the Gates of Zion above all the houses of Jacob. Zion here is Jerusalem, and so the Blessed Virgin herself. Zion is the Church as well, as the Eastern Hymn says, called to Exult not only in the Resurrection of Jesus, but also in the overshadowing of the Holy Spirit, poured out on her in all fullness, and on all the Church in the feast of Pentecost, making a great chiasmas of the Christ Event.

This man is born in her (in Mary) is Christ, but all of us are born in the Church, that is, in Mary. We are her daughters and sons in that we are children of the Church. As the Church is our Mother, so is Mary. The Font is the tomb of Christ, the womb of the Church where we are born anew. The altar is the tomb of Christ, and the table of the Holy House, where our Mother feeds us. The Gates of Zion are round about us. Here is an 11th century image from the Monte Cassino Psalter of the Church as Mother. Mater Ecclesia, (as opposed to Mater Ecclesiae, Mother of the Church).


And so this feast ties a lot of things together: Mother, Mary, Church, Body of Christ, and us as Children of Church, Children of Mary, Sons and Daughters of God in Christ.

I am not even yet adding to this tapestry the Holy Mystery of the Eucharist in which we are the Body of Christ, fed on the Body of Christ, within the Body of Christ. Christ who is both God and Man, uniting in himself the Divine and the Human, the spiritual and eternal, the celestial and the earthly, feeding us himself, into that same divine dance shared by the Holy Trinity.  Created by God the Father, redeemed in Love by the God the Son, and overshadowed in Love by God the Holy Spirit. We are, as St Basil says, creatures of dirt given the vocation to become divine.

Maria, Mater Ecclesiae, ora pro nobis!

19 May 2018

Light one candle.

JMJ
The Readings for Saturday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
Domine, hic autem quid?
Quid ad te? tu me sequere. 
Lord, what about him?
What is that to you? You follow me.

Peter, with a growing sense of... something... turns around and sees the Evangelist John taking notes like some Cub Reporter. Peter - who has just been given his prime directive - looks back at Jesus and says, What about him? It could mean, What's his prime directive? Or it could mean: Why's he standing there? What's he doing? Does he always follow you around taking notes? Do you have a job for him? Did he betray you too? It could even mean, He didn't betray you like I did, why not bother him with this stuff about feeding your sheep?

Jesus says, Like you should care. Follow me.

When I was Orthodox, advice like this came in handy during Lent: don't let someone else's fasting (or lack of fasting) influence yours. It's so easy to get hung up on how they are doing it wrong. This is especially true if they are actually wrong. Because then the question becomes, Why are they getting away with it? And after that is uttered (mentally, at least) in all its judge-y glory, the very next question is, Can I get away with it too?

Except fasting - Catholic or Orthodox - is not about food. Fasting in the Christian tradition is about training the will. God has said all foods are clean. But it is tough, is it not, to forego something when it looks so good! That thing may be meat. That thing may be ice cream. That thing may be TV shows on Saturday night when you should be doing lectio for the Sunday readings. Fasting is important because it trains your will to avoid the big things later.  And the one thing you should never do when training the will is turn to Jesus and say, Domine, hic autem quid? Yea, what about him? That's what I want to know.... Jesus pats you on the head and says, Zok nit kin vey, Zuninkeh, Don't worry my little one. Fardinen a mitzveh, Do a good deed.

The problem is that this worrying about the other guy can continue.  A lot of my friends ask why they should be chaste when so many people in the Church are not. The question assumes two things: that the asker knows exactly what is going on the person's moral life and that morality is a majority vote when it is not. The question assumes that one's salvation is not as important as other people's fun. The question is best translated, Shouldn't we all be damned together? This is a far cry from Peter's question, true, but who of us is going to meet an apostle talking to Jesus? When we ask, "What about that guy?" We are not asking, "Why is he going to live forever?" but rather, "Why does he get to have hamburgers in Lent?" or, more likely, "Why does she get to support abortion and still take communion?" or "Why do they get to live together and have sex and still work as the parish secretary and choir director?" "Why does he get to be such a crass, rude, and inconsiderate so-and-so and still get to be president and hailed by Christians?"

While this may all be the fault of bad clergy, and the reality of mob-rule, the church is filled with humans: and that includes the clergy.  All these humans need your virtue more than you need to sin. Your  virtue, practiced in the praise of God, will elevate them - and the world around you. Your sin is only more of the same grey swamp. But one lit candle will change it all. Don't fall prey to the darkness. Don't curse it either. Change it.

Feed my sheep. 

18 May 2018

No. Boys always say, "I love you *too*"

JMJ
The Readings for Friday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
Dicit ei tertio : Simon Joannis, amas me? Contristatus est Petrus, quia dixit ei tertio : Amas me? 
He said to him the third time: Simon, son of John, lovest thou me? Peter was grieved, because he had said to him the third time: Lovest thou me?

This is the Bible reading that made me first get excited about learning Biblical Greek: there is so much word play here! In English, in this passage Jesus asks St Peter three times, "Do you love me?" And three times Peter respond, "Lord, you know I love you." That's how it's translated in English. In fact, that's how it's read in every language except Greek and Latin. In Greek and Latin, Jesus asks two very different questions. He asks the first one twice, and when Peter demurs twice, Jesus asks the second question. This is why St. Peter is sad the third time.

The first two times Jesus asks Peter, do you Agape me. Agape is that divine, all-inclusive, all-embracing love that God has for us. Jesus asks Peter if he has this kind of love for his Lord. In fact, the first time, Jesus asks if Peter as more of this love than any of the other Apostles. It's not, "Peter do you love me?" Rather it's "Peter are you the best lover I have?"

But Peter twice says in response, Lord you know I Philia you. Philia is that sort of love that friends have one for another. The interlinear Bible renders it as "has affection for".  So Jesus says, "Do you love me with a all-embracing, all-controlling, mad, passionate, Divine love?" And Peter responds by putting Jesus in the friend zone.

The third time, then, Jesus comes down to Peter's level. Jesus asks do you Philia me? Are you my friend? And this time Peter is sad. Because he sees that he's missed an opportunity to fall in love with Jesus. And yet again Peter's response is Lord you know I Philia you. What is this? Three weeks after the resurrection? Peter has not yet figured it out. In fact, this scene is the end of a very disturbing passage. Peter wakes up one day and says, "I'm going fishing". In other words, he's going back to his old life. The other apostles follow their leader dutifully, but Jesus doesn't want them fishing for fishes. Still, as this passage continues beyond today's assigned verses, Peter turns to look at John and says, "What about him?" as if to say, "HE loves you... why are you bothering me?" Dude! When will you finally get it?

What we see here is St Peter struggling to understand Jesus, to figure out what all this means, to understand how he is the Rock, and how to love this messiah. But, more importantly Jesus says to Peter all three times, I don't care if you're my friend or if you are in love with me: feed my sheep. Jesus has only one command for Peter and it's not "go back to fishing." And Jesus has only one command for any of us, the friends of Jesus or mad, passionate, insanely in love with Jesus people. Our one duty is to feed each other.

St Paul tells us elsewhere that we are to build up the body of Christ, that we are to encourage one another with Psalms and hymns and spiritual songs. St Paul tells us to make all things into Eucharist and to think only on the good things and honorable things. So much of our life today and centered on anger, on hate, on violence. We focus on individual rights. Jesus tells us to be concerned with other people rather than with ourselves. The Church makes even our sins to be about other people rather than about ourselves. We are not to scandalize other people with our liberties. We are not to wound other people with our actions. Everything we do is to be in service to other people. As Saint Teresa of Calcutta said, "A life not lived for others is not a life."

Jesus asks you do you Agape me? Even if your answer is for now is only, I can be your friend, Jesus, He has only one command for you: Feed my sheep.

17 May 2018

Dīvide et Impera

JMJ
The Readings for  in the 4th Week of Easter (B2)
Viri fratres, ego pharisaeus sum, filius pharisaeorum, de spe et resurrectione mortuorum ego judicor.
Men, brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of Pharisees: concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

Philip of Macedonia, father of one of my political heroes, Alexander the Great, said διαίρει καi βασίλευε diairei kai basileue Divide and Rule. This political tactic is often deployed to bloody ends: any well written book on Irish history will be filled with the British using it to keep the Irish fighting the Irish. They have their own phrase for it: Playing the Orange Card. Sometimes, though, Divide and Rule can be used to humorous ends, as here in Acts when St Paul plays the Afterlife Card and gets the Pharisees and Sadducee into fisticuffs. The Pharisees believed in the Resurrection of the Dead (and in spirits, angels, miracles, the gradual development of the understanding of religious doctrine, and several other ideas we might recognize from Christianity. The Sadducees, contrariwise, did not believe in any of this codswallop. They thought, like moderns, that you live, and you die, that's it. Be moral. That total lack of hope in the future life is why they were - like moderns - sad you see? Sorry. Well, #notsorry.

Paul is not afraid of playing political cards at all: in 22:25 Paul says he's a Roman Citizen to get out of a scourging. Later he will appeal to Caesar. Paul comes out in front of the council and says, The only thing I've done wrong is believe in the resurrection of the dead. This riles up both sides of the room and gets him out of the middle. It's very well done. It's actually kind of funny.

Paul's experience is echoed today by Catholics and Orthodox, who report (online and off) that they are too conservative for their liberal friends and too liberal for their conservative friends. We find ourselves defending the homeless, no Muslim ban, no wall, and actions of peace rather than violence, and, at the same time, voicing opposition to abortion and the other fallout of modernity and post-modernity; all in the name of faithful adherence to our religious teachings. While being opposed to unrestrained capitalism, we must also voice objection to Marxism. While finding benefit in a well governed state, we must stop police brutality against those cited as "other" by our dominant culture. While praying for our leaders, we must adamantly oppose some of their favorite, vote-getting policies. And with nary a look back, we must break with party or politician when they cross the line into opposition to the revealed moral order.

Which makes us fickle as all get out. 

Except that's the exceptions, rather than the reality. You can't tell a Catholic Senator (of either party) from the others of the same party. You can't tell many Catholic voters from any other voters in their world. I know one man, leaving mass, who said he didn't care at all about the homeless in this city. It is sad but true that some in the church are more concerned with the wealthy who pay the bills than with the faith that will save them.  But I know, also, a lot who try to hold the fort down. I know a lot of Catholics who refused to vote for one or the other candidate in the last presidential race. But I am blessed to know a good few - including clergy - who refused to vote for either.

Those are the Pauline folks and I hope to meet more of them. One day I may even be like them.

As Christians we should be the cultural/sociological versions of hunter-gatherers: grabbing what's needed to advance the kingdom, but leaving behind anything that's too heavy to carry for fear it would weigh us down or, to horribly mix the metaphors: we need to drop anything that's going to make the oil in our lamp run out before the Bridegroom gets here. I, for one, needn't look to hard for other ways to be foolish.


16 May 2018

May not be a Bruce Lee quote. But it's true.

JMJ
The Readings for Wednesday in the 7th Week of Easter (B2)
Non rogo ut tollas eos de mundo, sed ut serves eos a malo.
I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil. 

There's this great line in St Catherine's writings, asking God not to take a temptation away from her, but rather to give her the victory over it. Of course, there's also the line in the Our Father asking that we not be led into temptation, but delivered from evil. 

We sometimes want an easy ride. We want a sermon that's all jokes, we want a recipe that's all hamburger helper. We want a religion that's light and quick. How may Americans confuse Christianity with Mayberry, RFD? How many westerners are happy to call themselves Buddhists, but only on their own terms? (There are Dharma Punx who parallel the Orthodox Children of the Apocalypse in their serious rejection of Western values in the name of a deeper religious calling.) To be fair, before Americans got into the act, a lot of other people confused religion with "our culture". God even calls out the People of Israel for doing that to Judaism in the Old Testament: creating an easy to get along, cultural thing that had little or no resemblance to the faith taught by the prophets - and a lot of resemblance to the practices of everyone else in the region. Everyone likes an easy religion.

Thing is, most religions are not intended to be easy. Classical Paganism was filled with rules, taboos, stipulations, food regulations... it took late 20th century writers to create a feel-good religion out of all that, a lackluster, Presbyterian sort of paganism for American bookstores. Oprah and Madonna turned the highest levels of Jewish Mysticism into something you could study with friends over a Bacon Double Cheeseburger. Anyone promulgating a traditionally stringent form of paganism gets accused of being a right-wing religious nut just like any other religious conservative.

Jesus' prayer is a reminder that not even God himself thought this would be easy. St Mary of Egypt struggled for 40 Years in the Jordanian desert. If you don't think the story is factual, remember it was told by Monks who, thus, at least acknowledged that theirs was a long struggle, a lifelong struggle. So is ours.

Along with Jesus, St Catherine and St Mary both know that without the struggle, the faith is meaningless. It's ok to make choices, but doing away with temptation, doing away with evil, per se, is not the way to make disciples. 

Taking the easy way out is never the right way.

I'm wrestling with the virtue of fortitude and also with follow-through. It's easier to run away.