16 January 2018

Orthodoxy before Orthopraxis


The 10th of 15 in a Series of Meditations on the 15 daily intentions offered by members of the Angelic Warfare Confraternity.

Modern ideas about inclusivity and "open minds" make us think we need to hear as many different points of view as possible on all topics, all the time. There's no reason for this to be true, but that's what we feel to be so. Someone might tell you you have a closed mind if you, to their face, dis their argument out of hand, (you'd also be rude). But some things in your life are already decided. You don't need to continue to read counter arguments over and over. A judge and jury have a closed mind at the end of a case - but that would be bad at the beginning. It is, however, not always the beginning.

15 January 2018


The Readings for Tuesday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Ne respicias vultum ejus, neque altitudinem staturæ ejus: quoniam abjeci eum, nec juxta intuitum hominis ego judico: homo enim videt ea quæ parent, Dominus autem intuetur cor.
Look not on his countenance, nor on the height of his stature: because I have rejected him, nor do I judge according to the look of man: for man seeth those things that appear, but the Lord beholdeth the heart.

The Lord says to Samuel, don't look at the tallness or his age, nor how handsome he is. God's not out for a strongman, he's out for a pious one. David is anointed as the King, as Messiah, even though the other king, Saul, is still living: the crown has already passed even though the ex-king doesn't know it. His reign will be in the death-throes for a few passages yet. And David will, despite his gingerness, reign with soul.  And he will be the perfect prefigurement of what Israel should be looking for when the Messiah comes, when Jesus is there.

What do we look for today in a leader?

Skills, success, brashness? Perhaps. If we are honest, though, we tend to look for "someone to say what I would say in that leadership position." On most days, if a Media Personality or Religious Leader says what we don't like, politically, we say, "Actors should stick to acting..." "Religion and politics should not mix..." Both of these sentiments get tossed, of course, if the Actor or Pastor says something we like.  Here, at last, is a woman (or man) who tells it like it is! I'm with Him/Her! We are, unlike God, easily swayed by persons who say what we want to hear. We may even make tasteful statements about "not judging them" because only God can judge, but we are sure they are true. 

So we pick a side.

And get disappointed.

God looks at the heart. We can't, to be honest.

Who would God make your football captain? Your Manager? Your Editor? Your President? Do you honestly think the God who picked the youngest, smelliest, and most-socially awkward son of Jesse to be Messiah would pick any of our current crop of angry, muckraking, self-righteous, hypocritical (or lying) politicians? Perhaps to punish us for our sins, as he picked Saul. Maybe we have had one long line of Royal Schmucks...

After his anointing, from that day forward, David had an experience of the Spirit of the Lord that is unlike anyone until Jesus, really. The Hebrew word is צָלַח tsalach. It carries implications of "rushed upon" and "penetrate". The gif I have in my head is one of those optical illusions that always seems to be coming at you but never gets there.

David became the Ark of the Covenant, literally. Saul never had this. Solomon becomes the embodiment of Holy Wisdom, but  - even with his sins, as we know of later - from that day on, the Holy Spirit rushed upon David.

Can you imagine that being true of any politician today! The thing is, it's supposed to be true.  

Our leaders don't have to be Christians: that's not even a requirement. But they do have to be open to the Spirit of God (even if they don't know what to call it). God uses what we give him and if it's Prince Charles, or if it's Tony Blair, or if we elect Lou Costello from beyond the grave... God will reign anyway. But there's a huge difference between a Lech Wałęsa and a Herbert Hoover, between a Queen Beatrice and a Prime Minister Quisling. I'm trying not to be partisan in a local context because I don't know any good guys locally, not since Jimmy Carter, anyway. God will use what we have just as surely as he used what we used to have: both in spite of themselves.

But after a while, God lets a country go: Israel, Alexander, Rome, Byzantium, Russia, whatever. They all get what they deserve for their sins and they fall apart.

Now that we do have a kingdom that shall never pass away, against whom the gates of hell shall never succeed, and we do have a leader upon whom the Spirit of the Lord continually rushes, we have a more important loyalty to which Patriotism plays only second fiddle: so it's ok if it's out of tune from time to time. The conductor will fix it.

Because It's...

The Readings for Monday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

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. 

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.

But 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 hear at this point about the "Primacy of Conscience" whereby even an "erring conscience is binding".  And so we must follow our conscience.  

But 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 do so for the inculcation of virtue, whereby the knowing and doing of the Good becomes effortless.

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. But God has had it out for the Amalekites since they tried to thwart the Exodus and no one has listened to the command to do them in entirely. Saul fails in this test as well.

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.

Samuel is clear, too: you have rejected God, God has rejected you as king. A king served as priest and teacher for his people. Saul is not fit for either - nor as war leader - because he has decided, when it comes to God's commands, there might be times when he knows better.

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.

That's how not to be a witch.

14 January 2018

Wherein Fr Martin is - Briefly - Right

Orthodox Monastic Building a Bridge
The Readings for Sunday, 2nd Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Tu es Simon, filius Jona; tu vocaberis Cephas, quod interpretatur Petrus.
Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas, which is interpreted Peter.

Did you ever notice how long the first Chapter of St John's Gospel is? I don't mean in terms of words. But in terms of concepts it goes from "In the beginning was the Word through John the Baptist all the way up to  naming Peter and the calling of the 12 up to "Angels Ascending and Descending on the Son of Man. I know there are no Chapters in the Greek Text, just a series of stories, but dang that's a lot of stuff.

For a couple of reasons I have, lately, been reading Fr James Martin's Building a Bridge. Since I enjoy the luxury of only reviewing books I like I'll not be reviewing this, um, Jesuitical treatise, but I will give credit: this essay comes from a line in that book. Fr Martin was briefly right. Noting that, before he fell, our first Father was given the authority to name the Animals, Fr Martin goes on to cite a number of places in the scripture where names are important including this scene of the Naming of Peter. Abram and Sarai get new names. Israel gets a new name. Jesus' name and John's were foretold by angels. God reveals his own name. From this the Jesuit deduces that names are important and we should call people whatever things they pick for themselves. 

His overlooking of a crucial point must be called out: no one in the Bible picks their own name and when God names something it sticks - regardless of what Mamma named 'em.

God reveals real meaning when he names things. God's very name means Being. Abraham is the father of many. Jesus will save his people. John is the Gift of God, the Forerunner. Simon bar Jonah is the Rock on which Christ will build his Church. Israel means "Struggles with God" and the Church is the New Israel.  We may vainly imagine that what we say goes... but God wins. When God names something, it sticks. 

Fugite fornicationem. Omne peccatum, quodcumque fecerit homo, extra corpus est: qui autem fornicatur, in corpus suum peccat.
Fly fornication. Every sin that a man doth, is without the body; but he that committeth fornication, sinneth against his own body.

Sexual sins, Paul says, are unlike any other sin because that are against one's own body. Paul uses a greek word that is so recognizable in our society today, porneia. Strong comments on this word, that we learn "from 1 Corinthians 6:12ff how leniently converts from among the heathen regarded this vice and how lightly they indulged in it; accordingly, all other interpretations of the term, such as of marriages within the prohibited degrees and the like, are to be rejected." But we know that now to be True. Not just of Porn, but of all sorts of sexual sins: from rewiring the pleasure centers of our brain, to blocking endorphins, to creating addictions, from weakening the immune system to sharing diseases and strengthening viruses, the misuse of sex injures us. These sins undo us. They ruin us.

These sins cut us into body parts for consumption - first by each other and then later by the demons. I speak in the first person.

Our culture, today, uses the world, Porn, just mean "dirty pictures" and so creates "Food Porn" and "Apartment Porn". But, in fact, the reverse is true: it is Porn for the right reasons. Marketing and advertising create lustful passions for food, for furniture, for travel, for clothes... each one incites a different passion, yes, perhaps. But each one also turns what might have been a rather garden variety weakness into a full-on, soul numbing drug.

In our numbed state we may try to name ourselves something new, never God breathed, or never even imagined in scripture. We know so much more know. But this name is not true. It is not indelible. It easily washes away.

Jesus renames us in Baptism. He turns away from fornication of all sorts, away from destroying our own souls to life, to himself. He sets us on the Rock where he builds his whole church. And he gives us a new name that none of us know save he, himself. 

13 January 2018

Saul and Matthew

The Readings for Saturday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2): 

Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat et bibit Magister vester? 
Why doth your master eat and drink with publicans and sinners?

The Latin does render it very enjoyably, no? "Why, with publicans and sinners, eats and drinks this Master of yours? The Greek is much more condensed: Why, with tax collectors and sinners, he eats?

Scroll back a little though.  

Our first reading has the anointing of Saul. The  Hebrew calls Saul the Annointed (the Messiah).  And what's not to like? He's tall and handsome. He's from a wealthy family. He's both respected and impressive. Why should this man not be the king of Israel, to sit next to neighboring kings at banquets, to woo their daughters. Everything looks good.

But we know the outcome... God will cast Saul down. Looks are not everything. What the people think they want is not the best thing for them. God has a plan.

Now look at Levi: a fallen member of the priestly class. In modern slang, a PK - a Priest's Kid. He probably grew up thinking he could do anything he wanted - and his parents doted on him so he did, exactly, that. And here he is, with no shred of respect for his own heritage, collecting taxes and chillaxin with the ladies. He was friendly to those in power, who were - quite literally - oppressing his own people. He Uncle Tommed his way in to helping the oppressors and getting rich at the same time. This is how far this Son of Israel and Israel's Temple had fallen.

Jesus calls him to not only be an Apostle, but also an Evangelist.  This man, fixed up by Jesus, with his Levitical education and classical exposure, would know all kinds of things about slander and words that shock. And he would use them over and over to win people to Jesus' side. 

Jesus takes the broken and makes them awesome because they have nowhere to go but up.  God cannot much use those on top. They don't need his help. Saul was only looking for a prophet to help find some asses - like us who only only need the help of Saints to find our house keys. Saul knew he was destined for Greatness: he just didn't know what. 

Levi knew, though, how far he had slid but didn't know the way out. And when Jesus calls, he's rather more than confused: his first response is to throw a regular old dinner party for all his friends and Jesus comes.

Jesus' open table fellowship confuses folks without a Sacramental awareness. They imagine that these radically inclusive meals would indicate something they call "open communion". But while eating meals with sinners was shocking, Jesus only had the 12 with him for the Last Supper - and even that was only after 3 years (at least) of Catechesis and constant exposure to him and his teachings.

Jesus radically open feasting though, another issue: was itself quite shocking. Quare cum publicanis et peccatoribus manducat et bibit Magister vester? 

Sometimes it's tempting for one in the faith to only want to hang out with those in the faith. But Jesus calls us to these dinner parties with sinners. It's ok if you want to have dinner with your friends once in a while, yes, but so many of the Gospel Stories are about sharing food and drink as evangelism

Later in the story of Saul we'll hear how the Royal Schmuck uses meals as a method of control. Jesus, though, opens wide the doors and says everyone come in. He welcomes them as they are - yes. But they change in response to his love. He heals them. And just coming once into his presence changes everything. The fallen PK, Son of Israel, becomes the herald and writer of the divine proclamation of mercy. Levi, the ruiner of livelihoods, becomes Matthew, the healer of lives.  

Saul, the hunter of asses, becomes Saul, the king of them. God lifts up those who are bowed down, but those who are high already... he's got but little use for them.

12 January 2018

Perverse and Foolish


The Readings for Friday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2):
Non enim te abjecerunt, sed me, ne regnem super eos.
For they have not rejected thee, but me, that I should not reign over them.

God sounds rather downcast here. Give them what they want...

Except I think that would be a lie. God's making a point to Samuel: that he should not be downcast. God is right. The Jews are rejecting his direct rule and asking for a king that they should be like the other nations. God has a plan here. And even though the Jews think they have a better idea, God is bringing salvation out of even that normal human urge to look like everyone else.

God warns them.
This will be the right of the king, that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and put them in his chariots, and will make them his horsemen, and his running footmen to run before his chariots, And he will appoint of them to be his tribunes, and his centurions, and to plough his fields, and to reap his corn, and to make him arms and chariots. Your daughters also he will take to make him ointments, and to be his cooks, and bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your best oliveyards, and give them to his servants.... And you shall cry out in that day from the face of the king, whom you have chosen to yourselves: and the Lord will not hear you in that day, because you desired unto yourselves a king.
They don't care so God gives them the Royal Schmuck, Saul, and says, "Don't say I didn't warn you."

But then Saul goes out of his way to offend God... and God sends the people David.

Then from David came the Messiah. And Jesus is God's final answer to the Jews asking Samuel for a King.

They are not rejecting you - they are rejecting me... so I will be their King anyway.

This is God's wisdom, God's majesty: I will bring salvation out of even your errors.  Hindsight is 20:20, yo. What would have happened if the Jews had not asked for a king? It's not important. What we have is God's history as it has happened now.

And when we see the Tapestry woven from human sin and divine grace we are overwhelmed with God's love for us. Each time we ran away the pattern was seemingly rewoven to include that. Or did we only feel we were running away?

Last night at Evening prayer this came rushing in as we sang this poetic setting of the 23rd Psalm by Henry W. Baker, in Hymns An­cient and Mo­dern (London: 1868):

The King of love my Shepherd is,
  Whose goodness faileth never;
I nothing lack if I am His,
  And He is mine forever.

Where streams of living water flow
  My ransomed soul He leadeth,
And, where the verdant pastures grow,
  With food celestial feedeth.

Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
  But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
  And home rejoicing brought me.

In death’s dark vale I fear no ill
  With Thee, dear Lord, beside me;
Thy rod and staff my comfort still,
  Thy Cross before to guide me.

Thou spread’st a table in my sight;
  Thy unction grace bestoweth;
And oh, what transport of delight
  From Thy pure chalice floweth!

And so through all the length of days
  Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise

  Within Thy house forever.

That third verse in italics up there... singing that I lost it: couldn't sing. Cuz that line "perverse and foolish oft I strayed" is like my motto for the last 50 years.  Yet there I was, standing in a Dominican Community singing vespers, in a Roman Catholic Church. How? Well, if you read a long you know how. But so overwhelming was God's mercy and my sense of his love for me...

God gives us what we want, weaving anew (or in spite of, I can never tell) our many missteps. And the great dance that is created has one final goal, one final ending which was also read at vespers last night:
There is cause for rejoicing here. You may for a time have to suffer the distress of many trials; but this is so that your faith, which is more precious than the passing splendor of fire-tried gold, may by its genuineness lead to praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ appears. Although you have never seen him, you love him, and without seeing you now believe in him, and rejoice with inexpressible joy touched with glory because you are achieving faith’s goal, your salvation. (I Peter 1:6-9 - Liturgy of the Hours)
It is all to that end: the goal of faith is not our happiness in this world, not some Witchy Peddler of a great get rich quick secret of manifesting our dreams, nor some Royal Schmuck of a politician that rooks us all for racist fools: rather our Salvation - including the politicians and racists and the witchy peddlers and all of us. God's out to save us all, no matter how perverse and foolish we are. 

Sheep are smelly, stupid creatures that, if not minded carefully, will feed to close to rushing waters and get carried away. (Their wool traps air, and makes the buoyant.) We may not always smell, but any political rush will sweep us along.

Jesus - whose very name means salvation - is God's only answer to our plaintive, toddler cry "leave us alone!". God has sent a human being to us. Fully Human, this being is also God.

11 January 2018

Totally Scooped by the Bishop


The Readings for Thursday, 1st Week of Ordinary Time (B2):

If you were reading along yesterday, you may be thinking I was in a Dark Spiral of some sort, and you'd be right. I was totally going somewhere with this, but I hadn't noticed that this is also a story we're getting for the first reading on Sunday. So, this AM: in my morning Podcasts, I totally got scooped by Bishop Robert Barron in his weekly Homily podcast.

I'm totally ok with that. Go listen. 

In defense of my intentions: where Bishop Barron was talking about the abuse scandal, I was talking about a cadre of clergy and lay instructors who seem to want us to change our teachings on Sex, Sexuality, Marriage, Divorce, and even Birth Control... it totally still applies. I don't feel qualified to talk about that other topic, but this one I'm ok with.