13 December 2017

This time I got away with it! Right?


The Readings for Wednesday 2 Advent (Year 2):
Memorial of St Lucy, Virgin and Martyr

Quare dicis, Jacob, et loqueris, Israël: Abscondita est via mea a Domino, et a Deo meo judicium meum transivit?
Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel: My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?

Recently, visiting my parents house for a vacation, I was "triggered" a number of times towards, as the morning prayer says, "my accustomed failings". But I had just read Matt Frad's The Porn Myth and he points out that when we are triggered, we need to call it out. When we feel the old patterns of sin forming up we need to say it is so, out loud, verbally (not just think to ourselves) and ask for help. The entire time I was on vacation I named triggers out loud, mostly in the moment. The experiment was a success in that I got home without having any grave matter to worry about.

Of course once I got home, this all fell apart. Work, normal life, riding the bus, and maybe doing things I shouldn't have, interrupted this process. In sum, vacation gave me time to struggle, but, of course lack of a real schedule disrupted my devotional life. Coming home restored my schedule, but disrupted tye ascesis, the struggle, the jihad.

But God hasn't punished me yet, so he's giving me a free pass, right?

Abscondita est via mea a Domino, et a Deo meo judicium meum transivit.

In the Hebrew and the Greek, this verse says, essentially, God's not watching. He missed me in the judgment. The rest of the passage is God saying "you're an idiot." Today we could add a third option: God's not watching, if he is he has skipped me... and there is no God any way. God still says, "You're an idiot." But we do have more choices now... You'll remember from earlier in the week: God only delays judgement to give us more of a chance to repent.

It's easy to forget that the purposes of space and time are to work out our salvation. Forgetting that, any delay seems like a reprieve. I don't need to struggle with sin right now: I'm on vacation. I don't have time to pray right now, I have to go to work. I can feed the poor later. I can say I love you, Dad, tomorrow. 

Today, though, is the day of salvation; because today is judgement day. If we think in theological terms, God is outside of Time. God is omnipresent in time as well as space. Judgement day is happening for God at the same "time" as my next sin. Judgement is happening now. Today is the day to be damned. Today is the day to be saved.

God does not delay, as some of us imagine delay. God sees our every action - not only our sins but also our repentance. Why not make the struggle glorious today, brother? Why not destroy that sin today? Why not wage war against the unfleshly powers of evil in heavenly places by destroying their hold on you today? My way is not hid from the Lord, in fact, quite the reverse. And so he loves you even still.

Why not say I love you today?

12 December 2017

Send the Rich Away.


The Readings for Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Tuesday 2 Advent):
Et signum magnum apparuit in cælo: mulier amicta sole, et luna sub pedibus ejus, et in capite ejus corona stellarum duodecim...
And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars...

This image from the book of the Apocalypse, I remember that the famous Protestant End-Times teacher, Hal Lindsey, had the darnedest time reading this image. He realized, of course, that the child born to the woman was Jesus. But who could the woman be? He finally came up with the tortured idea that she was Israel. I mean, right? Jesus was a Jew, so...

Lindsey, good Neocon that he is, also used that wonky reading to build up his idea that America should continue to politically invest in Israel. This was such a common idea among American Evangelicals that when, in the early 1980s, a group of Evangelicals converted en masse to Orthodoxy, joining the Antiochian (Syrian) Orthodox Church, they demanded Metropolitan Philip (R.I.P.) confirm Israel's right to exist. I'm not sure how the Metropolitan did that, but the political hangovers from that era of American Politics still haunt us. And they haunt our Christian Brothers and Sisters in the occupied lands of the Fertile Crescent as well. 

Of course, the historic Christian Reading is that the Woman Clothed with the Sun is the Virgin Mary. She was dressed that way in Mexico as well and so the Virgin of Guadalupe is a sign of something that haunts us too. 

She is brown.
She is "dark and comely" as Solomon says.
She's not white.

Worse, in her brown self, she is the Patroness of the Americas. Yes, the Immaculate Conception is Patroness of the USA, but this brown teenager is the Patroness of everything in this stolen land from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. And never let a white boy forget that.

She is a sign that the Kingdom of God is way bigger than our politics. She is a sign we Americans tend, at heart, to be Partisans, rather than Catholic.

How do I mean that?

There are several ways to be Partisans:
I will only vote for/support one political party no matter what is happening, no matter who their nominees are.
I will use my understanding of the National interest (and political process) to critique the Church's teachings.
I will highlight one teaching of the church - to the exclusion of all others - just so I can feel good about/justify my support - and belittle others for their lack of support.
I will use my political point of view to deny that others are really Catholic, or even really Christian.

This partisan thinking really is the reverse of Catholicism. It's really the Anti-Catholicism, the reverse of our faith which name means "whole" or "universal". The only way to be Catholic at all is, essentially, to reverse all those partisan processes: 

Recognizing that we are Catholics who live in the world but are not of it, we also live in nations but are not of them. We will use all of the Church's teachings to critique every political moment in our culture and nation - and in other cultures and nations - to the end of bringing all people into the Kingdom of God's justice, peace, righteousness, and love in this time, on this world, here and now.

In our present state, Guadalupe was a sign from God to the Spanish Conquerors of the Aztecs that the Aztecs were there not for slavery but for salvation: these people are also God's Children, destined for heaven.

How much more should she be a sign that we - as Christians who live in America - are responsible for the defense of our Catholic brothers and sisters, are responsible for the support, care, love, and even the protection and sanctuary, for theses peoples, whose economic destruction has been wrought by the nation we call home.

And yes, such an action may be contrary to our partisan, national interests and to the law.

As we used to say in school, BFD.

The Woman clothed with the sun is a sign to all Nations that paying attention to the mighty is probably not the best idea. The Magnificat in our Gospel today is a sign that paying attention to the rich is equally bad. The Woman of Tepeyac, raised on the tilma of an Aztec victim of colonial occupation, is a sign that coming from the Richest and Most Powerful nation in the world, we need to bow to the real ruler of the Americas.

The Virgin of Guadalupe has always called out to me. I was overjoyed to find an Orthodox Icon called the Holy Tilma of Tepeyac, put out by a very conservative group of Russian Orthodox Monks. Naturally, there's always someone more conservative out there, willing to know more, be more conservative than even the monks. Obviously the Monks were deluded at best, maybe satanic plants... when one is stirring up hatred for satanic weeds in God's Church, one always imagines oneself as innocent, well-bred wheat, you know? Anyway: this year I can celebrate her as a Catholic.
MY soul doth magnify the Lord, * and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
    For he hath regarded * the lowliness of his handmaiden.
    For behold, from henceforth * all generations shall call me blessed.
    For he that is mighty hath magnified me; * and holy is his Name.
    And his mercy is on them that fear him * throughout all generations.
    He hath showed strength with his arm; * he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
    He hath put down the mighty from their seat, * and hath exalted the humble and meek.
    He hath filled the hungry with good things; * and the rich he hath sent empty away.
    He remembering his mercy hath holpen his servant Israel; * as he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed, for ever.

11 December 2017

It just fell through, bang smash!


The Readings for Monday 2 Advent (Year 2):
Lætabitur deserta et invia, et exsultabit solitudo, et florebit quasi lilium. Germinans germinabit, et  lætabunda et laudans.
The land that was desolate and impassable shall be glad, and the wilderness shall rejoice, and shall flourish like the lily. It shall bud forth and blossom, and shall rejoice with joy and praise.

The Byzantine Liturgy refers to the "barren church of the Gentiles" being made fruitful by the Gentiles coming to Christ. We are the wasteland made fertile, we are the desert filled up with joy and flowers. We are the promised joy and praise. Sadly, to get here, we had to go through some rough spots: we keep fighting with Israel. Yet, since we are following Israel's God, we are, also, followers of Israel. 

They are the ones making strong our feeble hands and feet, giving us courage: yet the failure of Israel, first to evangelize as the prophets urged, and then to recognize the promised Messiah when he came, left us in reversed positions: as the Church of the Gentiles blossomed forth, it becomes the means for saving Israel. This also foretold in Isaiah, I think: for the Holy Road to God's kingdom runs through our lands, our blossoming desert. All the redeemed of the Lord walk on this Gentile Road - not just the Gentiles. Those returning to Zion will walk there, ie, those who have gone astray, but now come home to the Messiah.

But we're not only evangelizing verbally and with our lives: we are called to evangelize in our prayers. And that's what the Gospel is about today.

Jesus sees the faith of the friends and says to the man on the stretcher, your sins are forgiven. Because of the faith of the friends.

Who are you bringing before Jesus? I don't mean you need to physically drag someone to Church (but that can't hurt!) I mean, in prayer. Who do you bring before Jesus in Eucharistic Adoration? Whom do you plop down before the feet of God himself, in silence?

Apart from our personal witness - that is, our lives, words, piety, etc, I think the two things most effective in obtaining the conversion of sinners are Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and committing the person to the Immaculate Heart of the Blessed Virgin. In this regard, Mary is one of the Friends with us, together we drop our friend through the roof before our Lord.

Whom do you dare bring before the Lord in this way? Whom dare you not so to do?

I think this is crucial, this element of prayer, in the conversion of our friends and family, the conversion of those whom God has placed in our path: we must place them in God's way. It is our faith that will save our friends. It is our faith that will fill up the desert with life and manifest the blessings of God's grace to the world.

10 December 2017

Flame. It... Flames


The Readings for Sunday 2 Advent (Year B):
Adveniet autem dies Domini ut fur: in quo cæli magno impetu transient, elementa vero calore solventur, terra autem et quæ in ipsa sunt opera, exurentur. 
But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works which are in it, shall be burnt up.

The Graphic Parts of this reading - which are graphic indeed (more like Raiders of the Lost Ark than Clue) are not the important parts.

The important part precedes the  graphic. 
The Lord is not being dilatory over his promise, as some think; he is only giving you more time, because his will is that all of you should attain repentance, not that some should be lost.
God's entire purpose is our salvation. Your salvation. God is holding off on the biggest fireworks show ever waiting for you. For me. Come home.
Softly and tenderly Jesus is calling—
  Calling for you and for me;
Patiently Jesus is waiting and watching—
  Watching for you and for me! 
Come home! come home!
  Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!

The babe in the manger, crying and cooing. How can you turn away? The mother nursing. Joseph watching, benign and serene. Here, in this place of animal fodder and

Behold your God.

In the end, when there are flames and fire, it will be too late. But now, when there is time. The way to Zion is clear. In this desert that is our world, in the waistland of here, our God comes to us with comfort: tender words of mercy.
Why should we tarry when Jesus is pleading—
  Pleading for you and for me?
Why should we linger and heed not His mercies—
  Mercies for you and for me? 
Come home! come home!
  Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home! 

St Peter calls us out: if God is waiting patiently for us to come home and if we are waiting patiently for the world to end in fire, how should we behave? How patient, how loving, how eager to  outdo each other in virtue and humility should we be?

Even though God tarries, we should not. Let us strive together, sister and brother, that together we might win.
Time is now fleeting, the moments are passing—
  Passing from you and from me;
Shadows are gathering, death-beds are coming—
  Coming for you and for me! 
Come home! come home!
  Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home! 

And God's prophets are even now ascending the steps to heaven, lighting the second candle of Advent, and proclaiming the Gospel from pulpits in every corner of the land. With the Psalmist, let us say with commitment, I will hear what God has to say, for he speaks  peace to his people. Near indeed is his salvation to those who fear him, glory dwelling in our land. Kindness and truth shall meet; justice and peace shall kiss. Truth shall spring out of the earth, and justice shall look down from heaven.

This is our God, this voice of Love.  Can you not hear it? Can you not respond with the virtue he seeks? Will you now harbor one corner of darkness in your heart... or will you not turn it all over to him, to use and make as he sees fit.
Oh, for the wonderful love He has promised—
  Promised for you and for me!
Though we have sinned, He has mercy and pardon—
  Pardon for you and for me!
Come home! come home!
  Ye who are weary, come home!
Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling,
    Calling, O sinner, come home!

All of Jerusalem is emptying out to hear the Good News. The entire countryside is gone to hear this preaching. Why are we still sitting here? All we need to is acknowledge our sins and move on. But in this day when there are no sins, that's the most impossible step ever.

But the choir has a few more verses, and we can all still come home.

It's Sunday: Go to Mass.

Come home.

09 December 2017

How to Win at Quidditch by Trying Really Hard.


The Readings for Saturday 1 Advent (Year 2):
Erunt oculi tui videntes præceptorem tuum. Et aures tuæ audient verbum post tergum monentis: Hæc est via; ambulate in ea, et non declinetis neque ad dexteram, neque ad sinistram.

With your own eyes you shall see your Teacher, While from behind, a voice shall sound in your ears: "This is the way; walk in it," when you would turn to the right or to the left.

In the Harry Potter universe, Quidditch is the Wizarding World's version of Football. It's terribly exciting and, although I have no desire at all to imagine a group of snarky, self-satisfied differently-evolved string pullers behind the scenes (it's how a whole generation learned to hate baskets of deplorable, merely human muggles), Quidditch is something I wish I could see. Flying brooms, goals, a boundless playing field, and multiple pathways to victory. There's only one way to win, of course: get the most points. But there are so many ways to get points. Yes, grabbing the tiny gold ball might win the game for you - but not if the other team has more points. But that catch always ends the game. But who wins?

We will see our Teacher before us and hear a voice directing us. When the heart is ready, the teacher will come, or so say one or another group of American  new age folks (OK, Rick Springfield). What should we do when the teacher is here?


I'm constantly running, looking for the right place (which is always over there, never here). So What do we do when the teacher is here?

There will be a voice behind you, saying "This is the way. Walk in it."

Here's a couple of different options: one is very popular among Christians of all stripes just now. In this pattern everything is there, the perfect vocation, the perfect spouse, the perfect choices. God has a plan for your life. Your job is simply to discern the right choices and make them. God has awesome laid out for you. This is the way; walk in it."

There's this other option: in this one the way is the way of Salvation. You have to end the game saved. How you play the game is up to you, though. Will you try for ordination? Will you get married? Will you struggle as single? Will the end come in a career path in tech? Is pilgrimage your route? Will the end of the game be the retirement villa or homelessness?

What if the path is only the way of the Cross?

Thomas Merton was prepping to enter the Franciscan Order. He was quite convinced that he should: they'd let him teach college, he'd have a home, and three squares, and he'd go to mass and pray. In fact, he was already teaching at the Franciscan College. He' just have to move wings in the dorm.

But several hours away by train there was this Trappist monastery that called out to him. He'd have to give all that up, all the set up, all the easy change... and actually do something.

In the end Merton's choice was driven by the realization that the Franciscan path was too easy, that it required no sacrifice to do it.  If God wanted him to give up everything, he couldn't do it by holding most things in reserve.

So he ditched it all. And thus became the great spiritual teacher we know today. What a blessing it was for all the world that he decided to simply walk the way of the Cross. It "triggered" all of his Charisms, it made all his gifts manifest. That decision: I will give up everything, made him who God called him to be.  Note: he didn't wrestle with the ideas of that last thing. That last thing just happened.

The teacher is before us (Christ, hanging on the Cross) and there is a voice that says, "here's the path, walk in it." It only goes to one place: Christ on the Cross.  There's only one way to win, of course: get the most points. But there are so many ways to get points. This path, though, only goes to the firey end of all our lives.

When you die, will you have been saved?

08 December 2017

Ye who own the faith of Jesus

The Readings for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception:
Ave gratia plena: Dominus tecum.
Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you.

Unto whomst (as all the cool kiddies say on Twitter) else has the Lord ever said "Full of Grace"?

Unto which of the Angels or the Prophets, the Patriarchs, the Judges, unto which King or Queen, unto which Priest or Levite, has this ever been said?
Unto which of the women of Jerusalem did Solomon ever say this?
Unto which of the maidens dancing is this said in the Psalms?

No one gets this praise. No one at all, but she who is the Mother of God, conceived this day without sin.

But why? The teaching is that by a singular act of the Divine Mercy, Mary was given this grace before birth: not to know the stain of original sin. The "splendor of an entirely unique holiness" by which Mary is "enriched from the first instant of her conception" comes wholly from Christ: she is "redeemed, in a more exalted fashion, by reason of the merits of her Son". (Catechism, 492.)

And where else do we hear that sort of language? Around baptism! Around our baptism.

What God has promised you and I in our baptism, he gave to Mary by mercy at her conception. What is so horrifying about this: to think that God would honor with all the graces she who was to be the mother of Grace himself? She who was to be the gateway of light would be filled with light for all her life. She who was to be the new Eve would have the grace given to the first Eve before her fall. She who was to be the star of morning before the Dawn of Justice would, in herself, show the reflected light of the advancing sun.

This makes perfect, clear, and charitable sense.

It's not sensible to deny any of this - although Modernists get away with it by denying original sin outright. This is also not sensible: anyone who has met an Orthodox or Catholic Politician knows original sin is real. If you have the slightest inkling that Jesus is God, what honor would he not bestow on his mother?


The Greek is κεχαριτωμένη kecharitōmenē

This word gets used one other time (in a different form) in the entire New Testament.  It's in our second reading today, Ephesians 1:6, and it's not talking about Mary, but about all of us who are Baptised.  And this is why it makes sense to honor Mary today as Full of Grace: the Grace of Baptism bestowed before birth by God's mercy. It's scriptural: what God says of us after Baptism, he says of Mary before there ever was a baptism!

In Ephesians, we are celebrated as the ones chosen by God - in the same way as Mary. We are the one made in Christ to be blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavens. We are given this favor freely: we are made full of grace. To deny this to Mary is to deny this to everyone. (Again the Modernists and Liberals would have no problem with that.)

Today we celebrate in foreshadow what we will hail in reality on Christmas. God become Man to bring Man to God in fullest union. God entering our world to change the very fabric of it to make it a pathway of life instead of death. And even here, at conception, the thing that kills us is destroyed.

This is the glory of the Church: that Mary, our mother, signifies in her soul and body the mystery of our very lives: redeemed, elevated, filled with Grace, and made to birth the Word of God for the joy of all the world. This is the secret doctrine of our faith, that Mary, our mother, knows in her person the fullness of the joy that each of us strives to inculcate by the Spirit. This is the light that burns brightest on our altars: that Mary, our mother in birthing God to the world has become the Tabernacle of life himself. Mary is the Tabernacle, the Temple. Mary replaces all that with her virginal womb.

This day we affirm the highest honor God bestows on all of us by celebrating the most singular person to receive that honor in the most singular way. What we received in Baptism, by the promise, Mary received at conception by Grace. Let us by her prayers become worthy of this gift that we, too, may intercede with her before the Throne of God for those in our lives.

07 December 2017

When in Rome...

The Readings for Thursday 1 Advent (Year 2):
Dixit Jesus: Non omnis qui dicit mihi, Domine, Domine, intrabit in regnum cælorum: sed qui facit voluntatem Patris mei, qui in cælis est, ipse intrabit in regnum cælorum.
Jesus said: "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

Not everyone who says "Lord, Lord." It's tempting, isn't it: to assume that means someone else.

But Christianity's teaching "Do not judge" leaves us with a conundrum. Unless it is your calling to adjure and preach, all sins are in the first person, only. Even if it is your calling to preach, condemning others directly is never a good way to preach - although it can work sometimes. No... I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ.

So, not everyone who says, "Lord, Lord" will enter the kingdom... that means me. Sins are in the first person: it is I, saying "Lord, Lord" who are in danger of damnation. And so, with that heated introduction, to our topic:

Quia incurvabit habitantes in excelso; civitatem sublimem humiliabit: humiliabit eam usque ad terram, detrahet eam usque ad pulverem. Conculcabit eam pes, pedes pauperis, gressus egenorum.
For he shall bring down them that dwell on high, the high city he shall lay low. He shall bring it down even to the ground, he shall pull it down even to the dust. The foot shall tread it down, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.

I've posted this before, forgive me, but One day in 2010 Cam Miller, Rector of Trinity ECUSA in Buffalo, NY, teaching an adult ed class on the Gospels, asked us to list "classes of people" in the Gospel stories and, as we were confused, he started a list on the board with 1, 2 and 3. Then we figured out the pattern and got the rest of it:
  1. Jesus
  2. The Apostles
  3. The Women
  4. Jews
  5. Jesus family
  6. Samaritans
  7. Pharisees
  8. Tax Collectors
  9. Sadducees
  10. The Scribes
  11. Clergy
  12. Lepers
  13. Sinners
  14. The Army
We came up with a few more as well. Then Cam asked us "Who are we?" The Apostles was a logical choice. But Cam pointed out that's who we would want to be, but, as far as the story goes... "Sinners!" Yes, that's true, but I mean, in terms of current parallels none of these categories fit. Who are we, in terms of history as we sit here in Buffalo, NY, in the middle of winter?

All of these people, in the Gospel story, live in Judea (he used the Anachronism of "Palestine" but set that aside for this post). Judea is an outlier province in the Roman World where taxes are collected and olives are harvested. It is not, however, a place where olives are eaten - they are sent away. It is a place where bad politicians get sent by the Emperor for "special assignments". It is a place where "Keeping the Peace" is a imperial command that is impossible to keep and one's own death sentence.

Do we live in 1st Century Judea? (NO!)
Ok, then where are we?

Americans, in terms of the Gospels, are none of the people in Judea. We're not in the story at all except as an "unseen hand". We are most closely paralleled to Rome, to which all taxes go, all goods are sent, and from whom no secrets are hid. We are the gobblers and thieves who send out armies to "keep the peace" only so much as it benefits us (where "us" is defined as the bankers and companies that keep Americans shopping). We are Rome. What little good others get from our benignity is because we get a greater good from it. We do not send Charity so much as we send blood money. We speak of the Law of Supply and Demand as if we had not imposed it on the world with our guns.

In the end, Christian morals and ideas about purity, morality, equality, justice, and the Kingdom of God undercut the Roman Empire so much she had to start killing the followers of this new cult.

Please, God, it were so now.

In a fit of realism, as I type this on a cheap computer, sitting under lights lit by energy paid for by farmers in Kansas, sipping coffee made by underpaid farm workers in various parts of the world, wearing clothes sewn by hands well sweated in Target and Kmart, I wonder what can ever be done. I have a lot of stuff I didn't work for. I have a lot of stuff paid for by the blood of others. Even the foods I eat are harvested by the hands of wage slaves who come to our country because we have ruined theirs with our our politics and trade agreements. St Paul says to all of us, "Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly and to eat their own food." Yet we have, instead, become Rome. We are the rulers of the world, the exporters of the violence that moved west with a Young America. We are the killers and the spoilers. What Marshal will stop us?

I know that some part of the world thinks we may have elected our own Nero or Caligula. Although either would be disastrous, neither were anywhere near the end of the Empire. In fact, they were the beginning of the seriously bad part. But I do fear the wrath when it comes. And it won't be God, as such (although by his will): it will be by the hands of those we've chained to the machines that make our stuff.

One day, and please God, soon: they will say of America, as they say of Rome, The foot shall tread it down, the feet of the poor, the steps of the needy.

And maybe, like Rome, this will be our Salvation; But Rome is the Eternal City, and we only need one. I have no hope this will be so. For the Christian revolution cannot possibly come to a country that thinks, already, it is Christian, where we are all bound in our individualism and our greed to make choices: I value a whole lot of things more than the Gospel. I'll wager you do as well.

Not all who say, Lord, Lord...