11 October 2017

Five Very Joyful Mysteries.

AFTER THE CONSECRATION of the Archdiocese to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, on Saturday and, following Father James' sermon Sunday... Rosary Sunday... and a lot of Marian focus recent, here is my witness to the Rosary! I wanted to share this story of how Our Lady brings us, via herself, to Christ, holding the Cantena Aurea, the Golden Chain that is the Rosary.

I was introduced to the Rosary in 1974 or 75 by my grade school friend, Barbara, who lived next door to us. One day she was doing a craft project for school, to raise money for missionaries. She was making Rosaries with plastic beads and twine, following the instructions of the sisters of Our Lady of Mount Carmel at the school she went to. I became interested in the craft project and started to work with her. We made rather a lot of Rosaries!

Barbara also shared the story of Our Lady of Fatima.

We were in 5th grade at this time and when she told me, a member of the United Methodist Church, how to say the Rosary I took her literally. You'd be surprised how fast the Rosary goes when you say "Hail, Mary!" ten times followed by "Glory be!" And then, "Our Father!" Barbara's story of Our Lady of Fatima did elicit one question from me: Did this really happen? I remember that Barbara had a coloring book of Our Lady of Fatima - or maybe it was a children's book that was done in simple line drawing I can't remember - but it showed the story including the miracle of the Sun and it amazed me. I couldn't imagine what it might mean that the Virgin Mary was appearing to people. And at that time less than 60 years ago! Did my grandparents remember this happening?

At a local store I acquired tiny, golden statues of Jesus and of Mary. They were about an inch and a half high. Might have cost me $5 - all of my allowance. But I put them up in a tiny little shrine, the first prayer corner I ever had and I would say my Rosary in front of them. Really quickly: took maybe three minutes. When I heard that Our Lady of Fatima at told The Visionaries they had to pray at least 3 decades if the rosary a day, I couldn't imagine why such a short prayer was so important.

A few years later in high school I found a book in a used book store that talked about several appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and how important they were to Catholic teaching. The book discuss Lourdes, Fatima, the Miraculous Medal, La Salette, and Guadalupe. I also learned how to say the entire Rosary, really. And also about the Parents οf Mary, the Immaculate Conception, her entrance into the temple, and the Assumption. In 1979, I may have been the only United Methodist high school student in Georgia who could tell you the difference between the Virgin birth and the Immaculate Conception. The Entrance into the Temple, now, and the Assumption... why didn't people talk about these things if they were so important?

I fear that question (and the realization of differences between Catholics and other Christians) that led to much of the rest of this journey. At that time I was also getting into a learning curve of "the Cults". And the same people who deftly (and correctly) explained why Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, the Worldwide Church of God, Seventh Day Adventists, and followers of Christian Science were not actual, orthodox Christians, also explained that Catholics were a cult. Thus does Satan lie...

A retreat brought me into the "Confraternity of Christian Life", an ecumenical community which no longer exists. I had a great profession cross given to me, actually. And I explored my first experience of community life. "Come and See", indeed. While on retreat there, with the (Anglican) Brothers of the Holy Cross I was given an amusing mental image. One of the brothers said to me that the Wesley Brothers had been Anglo Catholics, and that John, at least, died with Rosary beads in his hands.

In hindsight, this is probably false. But even untruth can draw one out: and I was a member of the Episcopal Church within a year. And now I had a Rosary.

In that the Anglican Communion is liturgical, and that traditional Catholic piety continues in pockets (Rosary, Saints, fasting), and some places observe traditional Catholic liturgy, I mark this as my Catholic birth. The Church of St Mary the Virgin, in NYC, had full Orchestral Requiems, and Rosaries for the departed, and Cardinal Spellman was reported to have had recourse there when the Novus Ordo Mess got the better of him. Yes, it was an extreme pocket. I was told over and over by other folks, "There is no Mass in the Episcopal Church: we do Eucharist." But when other parts of ECUSA started to fall away (eventually even this parish) from traditional piety, I had a benchmark by which to judge.

I wasn't Roman Catholic, but I didn't want to be. When I started that journey: ECUSA was as Catholic as I needed. And even though it was mostly a liberal mainline at a fancy dress party, there were some places that seemed, sometimes, to believe what they were saying. It wasn't until I ran away and came back that I discovered they didn't believe what they were saying at all. By the time I came back some folks had insisted on their right to stop saying at all what they didn't believe. And so "The body of Christ" became "bread made holy" and what didn't get consumed got dipped in hummus after, or sliced and passed around for buttering at the Agape feast.

I was well aware of what was going on in ECUSA was also part of what was going on in the Catholic Church: the same liturgical, theological, and moral innovations were creeping in. Liberals in ECUSA were just waiting for Rome to get on board with women's ordination and sexual liberation. Through my college years and on into adulthood, I thought this as well. Back in the days before Internets, one could see it on the news, of course, but one really only had to go to church. The parochial vicar at our college was gay friendly and inclusive (and setting up dates) way back in 1983. My first exposure to a "clown mass" was in ECUSA, but I wasn't surprised when I saw one in the RCC. ECUSA's "Integrity" ministry for gays was sparsely attended: if you wanted really huge, cruisy attendance, you had to go to the "Dignity" mass at the Catholic parish uptown. And it was huge.

When I moved to San Francisco, it was the same way: both groups just as inclusive and welcoming; both groups as likely to juggle rainbow stoles and bad guitar music and call it "relevant" liturgy.

Struggling with my Rosary in a place where Mary was not called the "Mother of God" because Jesus wasn't called "God", I had to leave. But given what I "knew" about the Catholic Church, I couldn't go to Rome. So I went East.

Presentation in the Temple
The Eastern Orthodox Church does do liturgy very well: eastern and western liturgies, actually. On the parish level, both are heavily redacted, but they are stately. Even the conservative places skip a verse or two every now and then, keeping most church gatherings down to under two hours. But a few get them down to 1 hour. I took me years to figure this out: to learn that what was the ever memorable and unchanging liturgy of the East was often only something done in my parish and totally different in content (not in style, mind you) from what was up the road. What they don't do, however, is pray the Rosary.

I can't count the number of times I prayed a Rosary on my fingers, trying to remember if I counted the thumbs right. I had a Jesus prayer rope that had beads every ten knots. I still don't know why that was: but the odd design let me pray the Rosary! I would buy Buddhist malas because they had interesting beads and I would make Rosaries from them. I dismantled old Rosaries that were missing beads to make single-decade models. And would surreptitiously pray these in quiet ways in Orthodox churches.

Affiliating with a Western Rite monastic community, I was sad to learn they didn't pray the Rosary, but I made do on my own. And I continued to pray my Rosaries even though I knew I wasn't supposed to make a visualization of the thing up in my head. I was just supposed to be aware of it, so I wove in my own intercession: As Jesus was born in Bethlehem let my Sister's baby be healthy. As Mary interceded for the married couple at Cana, accept this decade as a prayer for Anna and Mark who are getting married.

Eventually, I learned about Orthodox Liturgy what I learned about other liturgy. Although it is largely stable, there is still no "Ur Liturgy". There is no one place to point at and say, "They Do It Right". There's all sorts of wonky experiments out there: revivals of older liturgies done facing the people across picnic tables parked in front of the iconostasis, open communion, altar girls. Some of these I've seen with my own eyes, some I've heard discussed by clergy who did them. Then there's the gay stuff: bishops who support gay relationships, clergy who function as "pastoral guides" for gay couples, seminarians who run off and get married to each other (and, thankfully, become ECUSAns). It's all the same because people are all the same. Where there's Church there will be people.

Orthodoxy is the Church. But after 15 years, I couldn't quite accept that she was all of it. And if Church was going to be this messed up wherever I was going, could I at least feed sme homeless and pray the Rosary?

There was one place I could go. I was, by her own account, practically, there already!

Finding Jesus in the Temple
When I first entered the parish near where my parents live in Alabama, I was, I admit, unimpressed. Later, when I heard the comment of a visiting bishop, "Is this a Church or a Pizza Hut", I totally understood the joke. It's not that it's not beautiful: it's just very... big and kinda dead. So I crept to the back right corner of the stadium seating, where the lights were low, and prayed a Rosary and waited. The preacher that day wanted everyone to pray a Rosary every day.

And fast on Fridays.

And maybe go to Mass more than once a week.

And I was hooked.

In short: What Mary had been telling me all along was here... was here. It was my pride that kept me away: my pride over my favorite sins, my liturgical pride, my cultural snobbery; but here it was still, and by a Rosary pulling me forward.

This past weekend Archbishop Cordileone preached a sermon calling all Catholics in SF to pray a Rosary once a day for peace, and once a week to pray it with their family, to Adore the Eucharist once a week (even if just before or after Mass), and to Fast on Friday, going to confession once a month. He added the 5 first Saturdays in honor of Mary's Immaculate heart to the list. Here was again. Catholicism, even here, in the heart of the most liberal city in America. The Archbishop called us to pray for the Spirit's revival in our Church.

When I wrote the priest that day in Alabama and said, "I want to be Catholic", I cited the Rosary in his homily. His reply was that he can't imagine another way how anyone could be Catholic.

Neither can I.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

Take Back Hallowe'en!


NB: I edit and repost this essay most every year, I know.  Archive has this going back to at least 2006, although it says there that I was reposting it again, so, at least 2005?  Anyway, it's still good.

October rolls around and the accusations fly:
        You stole our holidays!  - Pagans
                     You're being Satanic! - Protestants and former Protestants

In the Fall, as certain as badly flavored lattes and poptarts, we will be bombarded with bad history and bad social science and bad theology - although I confess that for two years or so it seems to be a lot lighter because our media and social mediæ are filled with real and trumped-up demons anyway. But, laying aside all earthly cares, let's talk about Halloween. After ten-plus years as a pagan and twenty plus years as a Christian I’m just annoyed by all the emotive, illogical silliness out there.

Some Christians take the Irish name of the holiday (Samhain pronounced "sow-wayne" or "sow-in") and makes it into a god’s name – claiming he was a god to whom human sacrifices were offered. This deity never existed. Samhain is simply Irish gaelic meaning “End of Summer”. It is, nowadays, the name of the Month of November on Calendars printed in the Irish language.

Modern Neopagans get the history all wrong, too. This holiday was not stolen (by the Church) from them. Firstly and most importantly because in northern Europe (outside of the Roman Empire), pagan feasts were not celebrated on fixed calendars. Secondly because their modern practices are almost all modern – based on a Christian culture – so their patterns are not the “real, ancient practice” of any people. There are those who are doing reconstruction work and actual historical research, trying to free modern paganism from the limits of Christian fixed calendars and the like.  They know "October 31st" is meaningless to ancient ears and hearts.

A good deal of the modern evangelical, fundamentalist, and Eastern Orthodox (mostly-convert) complaints about Halloween are just badly disguised ultra-Protestant, Anti-Roman Catholicism. In some cases (Jack Chick comes to mind) it’s not very thinly disguised at all. Other sects often succumb to such uber-frummery, too. When I was first Chrismated as Orthodox my only reply was “it’s not my holiday”. In this I was following my priest – Fr J. We were forgetting that the Orthodox Western Rite folks all celebrate All Saints day with the Christian West; so, in fact, some Orthodox do celebrate All Hallows’ Eve. So also do Roman Catholics, Anglicans and some (most?) Lutherans. In other words a majority of Christians around the world have this day on their liturgical calendar.

It is my assertion that the celebration of All Hallows eve as such is Christian; that is was never Pagan.

"A Christian Holiday" in this conversation means that it is part of the Christian liturgical calendar.  In East and West, being on the calendar may mean various liturgical functions. Although East and West do holiday traditions differently, both East and West treat their most important feast days the same: there's a Eucharistic liturgy (communion service) and there is something of a complex evening prayer the night before.  All Saints Day (Hallows is an older word for "holy") fits this pattern: there is a communion service on the day of, and a complex evening prayer service on the vigil, the "Eve".  It's this "Evening" or "E'en" that is "Hallowe'en".

A pagan holiday is one that is non-Christian, or Pre-Christian and, usually, localized: there was no pre-Christian religious tradition that was pan-European.  There were Celts and Romans and Greeks, there were Scythians, Gauls, Goths, Visigoths, Egyptians, etc. Each one of these ethnic groups would have had their own pagan holidays. They may have celebrated holidays with each other, or moved around taking holidays from home to new locations, but, in the end, each had their own, localized parties.

Not every Pagan European culture had a festival at this point in the year - the late fall or beginning point of winter. To find any festival at all at this point of the year, we have to leave the urban Roman Empire and go to the edge of the known world: the Celts of Ireland. There was a festival in ancient Ireland as the Sun reach halfway between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice.  The Celts were big on halfway points. In fact, they have one at every halfway point between each set of Solstice and Equinox.  A case could be made that it was these halfway points - and not the Solstices and Equinoxes themselves - that are the most important.

The bards report the feast between Autumn and Winter was celebrated on the Hill of Tara with the Ard Rí – the High King. Should one visit Tara today one will see a “passage grave” on the hill, called the Mound of Hostages. In the back of the grave are small spirals carved into the wall. Around November 7th on the modern Gregorian calendar as the sun passes the halfway point between the Equinox and the Solstice, a shaft of light penetrates the cave and strikes the spirals. Does this indicate the timing of the Feast of Tara? We don’t know, although it's a good guess. It does show that the astronomical point – not a calendar date, per se – was marked at Tara. Ditto the other bits of pagan Ireland and England: New Grange marks the winter solstice, not 21 December. Stonehenge marks the Summer Solstice (among other events). The Pagans in the only part of Europe not conquered by Rome didn’t use the Roman Calendar – and so wouldn’t have known what 31 October was. The passage on Tara shows that (in modern terms) it was the Sun at 15 Degrees of Scorpio that was celebrated – not a specific day.

Bonfires were lit that night, but it was a culture without writing.  We don't know that the Irish even had anything to say about the dead on this night.  Anthropologically it would make sense for this festival to be a harvest festival and it would be likely that the dead might be invoked or appeased at harvest time... but that's it.

How do the Christians get any party at this time into their calendars?

The East
In the east, St John Chrysostom (4th Century) set a celebration in memory of all the “other” saints on the Sunday after Pentecost. Since he did not (nor does his successor) have universal jurisdiction, this holiday would have, of course, only applied to those dioceses and parishes under his patriarchate. It was a good idea, however, so the tradition spread among the other Eastern churches. Additionally, in some places the second Sunday after Pentecost is observed as All local Saints. Thus in the Russian Churches, this is All Saints of Russia. In the Orthodox Church in America, that Sunday is “All Saints of America” but it is not so named among the various non-Autocephalous or “self-ruled” groups in the US.

This celebration was not commanded to those churches under the Patriarchate of Rome although the tradition began spreading there, as well.  It is, to be honest, a good idea: there are oodles of saints without feast days.

The West
In AD 609 or 610, Pope Boniface IV consecrated the ancient Roman Pantheon as a Christian Church. The new name was St Mary and All Martyrs and the anniversary of the consecration, 13 May, was a feast celebrated in all the western Church. It still is, in fact. This was the beginning of All Saints’ Day in the West. It’s important to note two things: (a) this happens after the coming of St Augustine to Canterbury in 587 (when the Roman Church met Samhain); and (b) it doesn’t happen on 1 November. These are important because of the claim (sometimes offered in error by many, myself included) that Augustine merely baptised a pagan feast day he found in England and that it came back to Rome. Nope. Sorry.

About 100 years later another Pope, Gregory III, dedicated another All Saints’ chapel – this one in St Peter’s – on 1 November and began to commemorate the feast on that day. The next Pope Gregory made that feast (on 1 November) of universal practice.

The Roman Martyrology, still read daily in monastic orders, tells the story this way:
Festívitas ómnium Sanctórum, quam in honórem beátæ Dei Genitrícis Vírginis Maríæ et sanctórum Mártyrum Bonifátius Papa Quartus, cum templum Pántheon tértio Idus Maji dedicásset, célebrem et generálem instítuit agi quotánnis in urbe Roma. Sed Gregórius item Quartus póstmodum decrévit, eándem festivitátem, quæ váriis modis jam in divérsis Ecclésiis celebrabátur, in honórem ómnium Sanctórum solémniter hac die ab univérsa Ecclésia perpétuo observári. 
The Festival of All Saints, which Pope Boniface IV, after the dedication of the Pantheon, ordained to be kept generally and solemnly every year on the 13th of May, in the city of Rome, in honour of the blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God, and of the holy martyrs. It was afterwards decreed by Gregory IV that this feast, which was then celebrated in many dioceses, but at different times, should be on this day kept by the whole Church in honour of all the saints.
All of these Christian dates are very important because these dates mean the festival of All Saints (and thus the Vigil the night before) is a feast of the pre-Schism Patriarchate of Rome. 31 October/1 November is not a Pagan festival: it is a traditional celebration of the unified, Roman and Orthodox Church - if you insist on limiting that title to western events before the 11th century.

Would the Church have adopted the pagan practice of a remote tribe from the hinterlands and commanded it to the whole of the western world? Unlikely.

Bad Victorian Mythology
Costumes? Trick or Treat? Pumpkins? Mostly bad Victorian-era Scholarship – and that mostly American, not European at all. Like us moderns, the Americans of the Victorian era had a penchant for things that “feel ancient” and, like us, they tended to make stuff up when they didn’t know the answer. They just call it “ancient tradition”. Americans feel guilty sometimes that most countries have indoor plumbing older than our culture.

Our American custom was, until recently, to becostume ourselves and trick-or-treat on Thanksgiving! In fact this may go back to a Roman Catholic custom on St Martin's day: and and this custom was moved to Halloween in the early 20th Century and, as things happen it is the “American Style” Halloween that is only now being imported into Europe. It’s our American customs, superimposed on All Hallows Eve that we now deck out as “ancient” and then call pagan. So follow this: Prot Americans adopt Catholic Customs from St Martin's Day, move them to Thanksgiving (which was, really, a bit too late in the year to go trick or treating); then we culturally move them to a Catholic Holiday, commercialize them, market them to the rest of the world and then - to validate it - claim it's not mid-20th Century Marketing, but rather Ancient Celtic Tradition... and poof! we've all been duped into spreading the marketing ploy.

Everything else we claim to know about the holiday is from this American Marketing. So we like to blame wearing masks on the ancient Celts. We claim the sweets used to be foods left outside, offered to the Ghosts. The Jack O’Lantern is a candle lit to show the dead how to get back to their homes. All of this is without proof of course – positive or negative. The ancient religions were not literate. They didn’t write it down in guidebooks on How to Be a Druid. Almost all of these later inventions have to do with Protestant ideas of the all the departed commemorated on 1 & 2 November. Romans say they are saints – but Protestants know there are no Catholics in heaven so all their “saints” must really be spectres and ghouls. Having made up a pretty fun holiday (admit it!) it caught on! Even Europeans now like this idea.

31 October is Not Pagan.
Modern Neopagans take up this theme – using American Christian customs! – when they say “Christians stole our holiday”. In fact, 1 November was never their holiday – it was, however, the closest Christian party to their own historical party at 15 Degrees Scorpio. So they moved their gew-gaws and froo-froo a week over or so and stopped counting days by small spirals carved on walls and tried this new Roman invention – the Fixed Calendar. They did this so as not to be continually persecuted by the Christians – they wanted to blend in. I’m clear on that – and Christians need to be honest about our persecution of other religions throughout our history. We see the same blending-in in Yoruban cultures where their Afro-Caribbean and South American cultures adopt Catholicism as a cover for their African Gods. In like manner, albeit, a thousand years earlier, the Celtic tribes covered up their pagan traditions with a Catholic overlay. But the Church didn't do that, as such: the Pagans pretended to be Catholics, not the other way around.

We might better say that the ancient Pagans, to avoid persecution, stole a Christian Holiday. Certainly the idea of the Western All Saints being stolen from the Celtic “day of the dead” is not at all historic. Since the ancient religions did not write stuff down, we have no way of knowing from Pagan sources if the Festival of Tara was anything to do specifically with the dead or the “Veil between the worlds” getting thin. We don’t even know it was “New Year” for them – we may have made that up too. Like other pagan festivals some of this stuff may have carried over: the “bonfire holidays” in England are mostly pagan festivals that were transferred to Christian days. This is especially clear on St John’s day in the Summer when they light the midsummer bonfires. This tradition of moving traditions to the biggest party continued through history: in England, now, the Mid-Autumn bonfires are not lit on Halloween, but rather on Guy Fawkes Night (Nov 5) which is coincidentally much closer to 15 Degrees Scorpio.

The Aztecs?
Because huge parts of America are, largely, encultured by folks from Mexico and further South, it’s worth talking about the Day of the Dead, Dìa de los Muertos. It's one of my favourite times of the year to switch cultures: it's practically a public Holiday in San Francisco. We may have no idea at all what the ancient Celts did, but the Day of the Dead is a living, evolving tradition. Some Protestant commentaries are quick to point out that this is Paganism+Catholicism. But it is Catholicism – not paganism – that rules the day. When it is the other way around, it is a stolen holiday (again, stolen by the Neopagans).

The Aztec (Ancient Mexican) Calendar had almost 30 days dedicated to the dead in or around the Gregorian month of August. These were dedicated to the “Little Dead” (children) and the Adult Dead. It's likely that these were the ghosts of human sacrifices, as well as the ghosts of the beloved dead.

Within a few decades of the Spanish conquest all the traditions of these festivals had been transferred to the Catholic feasts of All Saints and All Souls. The Church didn’t move them there – nor did she “take over” the Aztec feasts. Instead – as in the case of the Celts and the other pagans – local traditions were, effectively, baptised when they got there. There were no human sacrifices anymore. But people still wanted to commemorate their dead. These traditions were seen as way-pointers on the way to Christ who is The Truth and therefore all things true point to him. There is nothing to be afraid of in the truth: nothing at all. And anything that really is True really is Christ.

Now does any of this mean that the modern, Non-Christian silliness that goes on in Schools is really-Christian or even Anti-Christian? No. No more than singing “Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer” is an act of Christian piety although I know some who would file a lawsuit nonetheless. That said, let's be honest: most of the secular holidays that happen now - from Christmas to Easter to Halloween - are decidedly not Christian and should be avoided.  The revelries that happen on this night are lewd, crude and are often designed to mock Christianity. That is Satanic.

But bobbing for apples, trick or treating - or using this day and season to commemorate the dead and the departed are not Satanic at all.  In fact, it's an Orthodox practice that is so evidently healthy that even the pagans took it over: All Saints Day (and the Vigil) and All Souls Day and the whole month of November. Should the kids be allowed to have that fun? Well, that’s up to the parents.

One major point edited in in 2017: I'm Catholic! This is my holiday now.

NB: To be fair, the internet itself has a growing crop of research, such as the wiki article on the Celtic holiday that is quite well done. But it's my blog so I can do this every year as long as I update it!

07 October 2017

I'm running for your heart.

Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said: Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do? The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: If you wish you can become wholly flame.

25 September 2017

Not According To

I've been thinking about rule books today, viz sex and the church.

There's only two books: The Church's Rules and Not the Church's Rules, although the latter comes in several various, often unique editions. Many people outside the Church use their favorite version of the Not the Church's Rules. And I'm ok with that: I don't expect people who are playing Baseball to follow the rules of College Football. I don't expect NASCAR to follow the rules of Lawn Darts, and I don't expect people to play Pinochle following the rules of Spit and Malice. People outside the Church are not expected to follow The Church's Rules. But inside the Church now...

My journey began with a jettisoning of The Church's Rules and the discovery of Not the Church's Rules in a college youth group at a retreat center in upstate New York, in the winter of 1982-1983. Prior to that time, I'd worked really hard at using the same rule book everyone used for ever. From that point on, I tried to play by Not the Church's Rules while staying inside the Church in various ways until, late in 1988 or so. Things were very odd., let me tell you. You can't play golf without the right set of rules. Even croquet is not close enough to golf to let you play the same game.

So I decided the problem was I was using Not the Church's Rules inside the Church: I left the Church. Cuz Not the Church's Rules let me be me. And I was having fun. I was kinda ok, for nearly ten years. But oddly, whilst having fun, something was missing.

So, for a brief time, I tried again to play Not the Church's Rules inside the church... but then I decided I actually wasn't in the church since everyone was playing by Not the Church's Rules in sex, in theology, in Bible, in economic culture... didn't matter.

So I went and joined the Church.

But I still tried to play Not the Church's Rules.

And... Still didn't work.

So I left the Church again.

This cycle continued, unabated, until rather recently in Salvation History. I decided that maybe - just maybe - I needed to try the one thing I'd not tried at all: Being in the Church and playing by The Church's Rules.

At no point in here did I think I needed to make the Church jettison her Rule Book: but I tried pretty much every version of not-following that book I could come up with. I finally decided that getting rid of one part of the Rule Book made all the other parts of the same book (Fiscal, Moral, Theological, Sacramental) as weak as possible, until it was easy to tear them out too.

When you're left with the Church's Empty Binder of Nothingness, oddly, you don't have Church any more either.

This is why hearing folks trying to force the Church play by Not the Church's Rule Book makes me really, really nervous, annoyed, sometimes angry. Then I remember the Church has stood up to people who were trying to kill her over that Rule Book for two millennia. So I'm ok with waiting this round out.

She always wins.

24 September 2017

This is not an interfaith dialogue.

Today's Readings:
Et nunc magnificabitur Christus in corpore meo, sive per vitam, sive per mortem. Mihi enim vivere Christus est, et mori lucrum.
Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me life is Christ, and death is gain.
Philippians 1:20c-21

To live is Christ. The Greek uses the verb form of the noun, "Zoe," which is the divine life of God. τὸ ζῆν Χριστὸς, "To Zen Christos." To Zen is Christ. No apologies, I love it! In Galatians, Paul says he is crucified with Christ, and yet he (Paul) Zens because Christ Zens in him.

What does it mean to live Christ? How can it be that we live him? Is it possible that in my flesh, and in my everyday life, I am Christ? That is too new agey. Is it possible that somehow all the things I do everyday, good and bad, safe and unsafe are all Christ? No that would be silly. Since I am a baptized Christian, should I say that everything I do, or everything I want to do is Christ? That would be delusional. That would deny the reality of sin. So what does it mean, to live is Christ?

Reading CS Lewis I am often made aware of traditional Christian Anthropology. We are here as God's creation to do God's work; we are here as reflections of God's presence in the world. We are never more ourselves than when we are letting God work through us. All of our gifts, all of our talents, all of our very being and purpose are here only for this very service. When God loves and heals me it is often through the actions of some human. When I serve and heal someone else truly as God loves them, it is God loving them through me. To live is Christ may also mean Christ living through my presence. To make that happen though, I have to get out of the way. All the things that only seem to be me, but that are actually destroying me need to go away. We are never less our selves then when we are insisting on our own way, demanding our own space, insisting that God to get out of the way and let us be us.

To Zen Christ, then, is to let all those things die. We think those things are us, but really those things are keeping us from being who God created us to be. Those things are keeping us from salvation, those things are keeping us from theosis.

For each of us those things are some things different. It may be pride in our artwork. It may be skill that somehow has glossed over into gluttony. It could be lust. It could be love of something which otherwise would be fine, but now is a distortion. It could be a desire for peace and quite that keeps us out of Church. Each of us must be honest about what those things are and we must crucify them; so that Christ can live us.

Do you see? We are crucifying the us we think we are so that Christ whom we really are can live us. We are each giving up what we think is life, what we vainly imagine life to be, so that Christ (who is life) can live us.

In the Gospel today, the parable of the vineyard and the workers, we see what happens when we fail to live as Christ, fail to let Christ live us. You know that if this Parable were lived out today, the first groups of workers would form a union and would protest outside the vineyard demanding just wages and better compensation. I am not even sure who the Church would side with. Who are the deplorables in this story? Are they ones complaining about poor treatment - even though they got exactly what they were offered? Or are the deplorables the ones who are lazy and laying about all day and still manage to take a day's wages for the briefest of work? While the protests are gearing up, and the picket lines form outside the vineyard the owner and the workers who came at the last hour will shut the gates like so many wise virgins and there would be a party inside. So used are we to demanding our rights, our privileges, our just desserts that we fail to live Christ.

I have been reading Merton's Seven Storey Mountain. I have never read it, and I am enjoying it greatly. Perhaps this is because I have just become Roman Catholic and Merton's journey seems much like my own. I did not know before he was a Trappist monk he considered becoming a Franciscan. He's so linked with Trappist silence in my mind - and in popular presentation - that I was surprised to read this. His decision to not become a Franciscan was based on the realization that it would be no sacrifice at all for him to be in the Franciscan order. Even giving up all he owned, and, after being a novice for a while, he would still be himself. All of his faults and foibles would still be present, with nothing to challenge them, nothing to break them. I wonder if I should not be judging my life on that same, strict standard. What if something that I want is not a sign from God? In fact what if my wanting it is exactly the sign I should seek and pray to not want it? What does God want? For me to praise and serve him. Is that always the same thing I want? No! In fact wanting something by itself may be the sign of me seeking to justify things as they are.

And yet, Grace builds on nature. What we are is what we are. What we become is Christ if we let it happen. We are not destroyed, we become who we were meant to be. We die. And Christ lives.

We are all called to do the work Christ has given us to do. And all of us who do that work as we are called to do it, will be paid exactly the same thing: we will live. It is in our cultural nature, our fallen nature, our sinful nature to demand something more, anything more than the other guy. But God says do this and live. That's all we're promised. Sainthood.

Oh, and we are promised that everyone will hate us if we conduct ourselves in a way worthy of the gospel of Christ.

Saint up.

And stop complaining.

20 September 2017

All Teh Feelz


Today's readings:

Dixit Jesus, "Cui ergo similes dicam homines generationis hujus? et cui similes sunt? Similes sunt pueris sedentibus in foro, et loquentibus ad invicem, et dicentibus: Cantavimus vobis tibiis, et non saltastis: lamentavimus, et non plorastis."
Jesus said, "To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another, 'We played the flute for you, but you did not dance. We sang a dirge, but you did not weep.'"
Luke 7:31-32

The first time ever I wrestled with this description I think I imaged that Jesus liked "the people of this generation", or at least pitied them. Pity, in a way, may be a good word, but like is not. In fact Jesus is calling them fools. He's also saying they are foolish for all their feelings.  Over and over, it seems to me today's generation(s) are more intune with Jesus' time than we like to admit. 

I recently re-read Calvin Miller's wonderful retelling of the New Testament story, The Singer Trilogy. Chapter 13 opens with this verse:
No person ever is so helpless as
the man in whom joy and misery
sleep comfortably together. 
No physician can give health and
happiness to the man who enjoys
his affliction. For such a man
health and happiness are always
It goes on to tell the story of a man with a maimed hand and arm. The Jesus character (called "The Singer") offers to heal the man fully if he "will just desire it whole and believe it can be." The man cannot do so, for his whole being is subsumed in the pain, almost as though to be healed would be to rob him of his being. In response to repeated offers to heal him, the man says only, "Stop your mocking. I am a sick old man whom life has cheated of a hand." In the end the Singer leaves the man alone and in pain waiting "for the Singer to join him in his pity."

So many of our stories today are about people who don't want healing, they want mutual pity. They don't want a way out, they want to be trapped in their pain, confusion, and lament - and to trap all of us there with them. Their anger forms walls around their pride, their self-definition is generated by negation: I am not-that. Our affirmation of even the possibility of truth causes pain. I wrote yesterday that to save those around us, "The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit." Someone who has been there might have to thread the labyrinth again and slay the Minotaur. 

But who would do that? Who has been there... and wants to go back in? I think Jesus calls each of us to that task. We are, each of us, skilled at some labyrinth somewhere. Go get a ball of thread.

19 September 2017


Today's readings:

Suæ domui bene præpositum: filios habentem subditos cum omni castitate. Si quis autem domui suæ præesse nescit, quomodo ecclesiæ Dei diligentiam habebit?
He must manage his own household well, keeping his children under control with perfect dignity; for if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of the Church of God?
1 Timothy 3:4-5

It sounds odd to our ears to read this for three reasons. One: since the 70s, at least, these have been shared duties - in theory. Two: for the 200 years or so prior to that, although the man was the "head of the house" the woman was the manager. We see this in such bizarre images as the 50s housewife, and the Grand Dames of Downton Abbey. Even downstairs, Carson may be the muckety muck, but it is Mrs Hughes that actual runs all things - even Carson.

The third reason this sounds odd: no one does adulting any more. Managing a house? Blergh.

Jesus raising from the dead the son of the widow of Nain is often seen as an act of cultural compassion. The woman had no man to fend for her, she was to become an outcast. By restoring her son to her, he gives her household a head. So it seems. 

Neither Jesus nor Paul waste a lot energy critiquing the culture in which they find themselves.  Paul makes comments about the sexual morals of the gentiles, Jesus makes comments about the religious liberals of his day being "whited sepulchers", but in the end, neither says "boo" about the Roman power structure, or the ways different groups of people are treated in the society.  Jesus doesn't question Pilot's authority over him, Paul blatantly appeals to Caesar in an attempt to get away from his own people. 

Paul appeals to the family structure of the time. Jesus uses the political, ethnic, and religious forces in his homeland to God's greater glory.

Does this mean "God approves these things" and "cultures at variance are to be considered sinful"? 

What about rather, at minimum: God uses what's there. God starts where people are and moves them to where they need to be. God leaves none of us unchanged, sinful, alone. But God gets to us where we are.

I've been thinking about the Story of St Mary of Egypt a lot recently. Very brief, Mary enjoyed sex. A lot. In fact, she did a lot of things just to have sex - or to have time to have the sex she wanted to have. She's very clear: she didn't sell her body for money. She was doing this because she enjoyed doing it. One day she saw a bunch of young men waiting for a boat and, flirting with them, she discovered they were going to Jerusalem to visit the Holy Places and attend the Elevation of the Holy Cross - a feast we celebrated last week. She decided that all these youths on a boat was too much fun to pass up and when they said "you need money to get on the boat" she said, "Take me with you, you'll not find me superfluous". And they all had sex all that time...

When she got to Jerusalem, some invisible, spiritual force kept her from entering the Church.

Realizing this "force" is her own sin, she prays before an Image of the Virgin and asks for grace to venerate the cross... which she does... and then she begins 40 years of struggle to get back to purity.

God got her.

God used her own addictions to pull her to him.

And then got her. Grace builds on nature. It is our weakness that lets God take the lead.

What if God does that even to cultures? 

A slow process of meditative, prayerful change brought out of the death-happy world of Rome (where the Father of the House could expose a child or an older person on the hillside just to improve the economics) a Christian culture of life where abortion, euthanasia, political murder, even war itself was seen as sinful. How did that happen? And where did it go?

Today we struggle with the same sort of Questions. How do we engage the culture without becoming contaminated by it? How do we dance the Gospel in the world without becoming part of that world ourselves? Can we use the internet for evangelization? Is there a place for technology? What do we do with all this sex?

Rome has come back with a vengeance.

Can we walk alongside the culture and find the good things, and let grace build on nature? The Salvation of many depends on the answer. The only way to show them how to escape is to go inside and draw a map to the exit.