16 August 2018

A Perfectly Timely Parable

The Readings for Thursday in the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Serve nequam, omne debitum dimisi tibi quoniam rogasti me : nonne ergo oportuit et te misereri conservi tui, sicut et ego tui misertus sum?
You wicked servant! I forgave you your entire debt because you begged me to. Should you not have had pity on your fellow servant, as I had pity on you?'

I was not sexually abused by any clergy - Catholic, Orthodox, or Episcopalian. 
Nor do I have children. 
I hear this parable always when I hear people crying for blood. 

Yet, reading Ezekiel, and the Responsorial Psalm, 
I know the Church is Israel
And we, too, can be sent into exile for our idolatry.
When the people of God
object to God's teachings 
From within the House of God
We are all at risk.

Let us pray for victims, for the Church, 
and for the world who cannot hear the Gospel for our sins.

14 August 2018

The True Story of Sleeping Beauty


The Readings for the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Astitit regina a dextris tuis in vestitu deaurato, circumdata varietate.
The queen takes her place at your right hand in gold of Ophir.

Let me tell you a love story. This is a real love story, not a romance, such as we pass off today as love; nor is it a "chick flick" sort of story, where things are all feelings and mush. Yet it is not a fairy story, for this is real. And since it deals with real things, with real love, it is not just a story of a man and a woman, not just boy meets girl. For real love does not just change the hearts of two people, like some blushing beauty and the quarterback at a football game. Real love changes the world. And so it must start with two ordinary people. This story involves a princess who would be a queen ere long, and a king who would die, and the king's son would would also reign. 
But I get ahead of myself. 

It starts in the most ordinary way: an arranged marriage and a baby coming, awkwardly, before the wedding. This Baby is God the Son, and I don't want to tip too many cards but you should know the Baby is Jesus, and the princess is Mary. And the arranged wedding is with Joseph. See her father, Joachim, place Mary's hand in Joseph's. Arranged marriages are where love can blossom first and foremost. We have it in our heads that Romance is Love. But it is not. And Romance does not give way to love. Romance is your hormones running amok. We are so confused by this that when the hormones stop running, we think love has ended. We take great pains to continue the run... but an arranged marriage with no pretense of romance, must needs give rise to duty.

Then Real Love, the Love that this story is about, grows directly from duty. Real love is self-sacrifice, and even death. Real love sings most gloriously just before it dies, and makes of an entire life an aria of surpassing pain and light. And then it offers it all up to God.

So Joseph, who was put into an arranged marriage, was there as a middle aged man getting a young second wife, or else as a teenager, but either way, this man discovered his duty to God coming first even in his marriage bed. And in that duty, the man arose in strength  of the Spirit, and loved his wife and her son, giving glory to the Royal line he embodied, this poorest son of King David. He was providing safety for them both, and a home. His life wrapped up in their lives, and theirs in his. True love changed him forever.

Yet he died. And his wife, the Queen, mourned him and never married again, raising his children and her own son, and caring for all. And Jesus, too, knowing the death of his father, and the pain that young children have over things they do not understand, learned what it is when God loses by death what he loves in life. And Jesus cared for his mother in her loss. And God knows what it is to see a parent grieve, when we children cannot offer the right comfort. God knows the pain that we feel. I don't just mean God understands, or in his wisdom "gets" it. I mean, damn it all, God has actually done these very things.

And Love - real love - changes the world.

The boy becomes a man. The woman ages. The prince rises as King in David's line after the man who fostered him. And as something else, the Anointed of God. And the woman, the Queen watching from the side, knows where all this is leading.

And when she comes again to the fore, she is standing before his very throne and a little to the right, as reigning from the tree, he is slain. And the King gives us all his mother. And she becomes our mother too.

Again she mourns. For her love, a mother's duty, is now slain. And she does not understand, does not know why God has singled her out for this grief. Her heart is pierced by seven swords and God now must watch in ways we cannot understand, while his own mother mourns the loss of her only son. God, who knows all things, know now, this, too, from the inside. 

Something new happens now.  In tradition, the Resurrection - which we all see coming - is depicted as the harrowing of hell, with Christ holding the hands of Adam and Eve as signs of all humanity rising. If you will, however, see Christ bursting the gates of hell and finding first his Daddy who is proud beyond a father's knowing, and there are tears of joy in that place where never joy has been. And in the clasped arms of love the darkness is destroyed, and hell washes away in peals of Dad and Son laughing at how painful it was, but it was only the end of night. Real love changes everything.

Now this love story has one more act. After the Resurrection, after the Ascension and Pentecost, and after more time than the tradition will let us know. When the Queen grew old beyond need, and the Church was ready to blossom forth. She, too, died. And her apostolic sons, given to her by Jesus, gathered around her, prayed, and wept. The last of that Holy Family now gone.

But the icons tell a different story. How, as she lay falling asleep, the walls of time and space parted, and her Son came to receive her into his arms. And she saw him, there, with Angels and Powers of all, singing her praise and the praise of the Son she bore. And as they turned to go, a man was there too. See the Son, Jesus, place his mother Mary's hand in his father Joseph's. That reunion was beyond all joys ever known. Then Joseph, Mary, and Jesus leave her house on earth together. For Christ does not leave us as we are, nor can the world be the same after.

The Holy Family is a sign of our rebirth, of our life beyond. True love - real love - changes not just two hearts, but the entire world, all space and time. Once upon a time is now: if you will but discern the path of real love.

A blessed feast!

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Confess Your Unpopular Opinions


The Readings for the Memorial of St Maximilian Kolbe, Priest & Martyr
Tuesday in the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Alleluia. Tollite jugum meum super vos, et discite a me, quia mitis sum, et humilis corde 
Alleuia. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart.

In their quest for Lebensraum, or Livingroom, the Nazis invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. Since that whole people was devoted to the Catholic Faith, Hitler knew he had only to break the Church in order to take the heart out of the country. He killed or arrested every leader of the Church - clergy or lay - and had them shipped off to concentration camps, along with Polish Jews, communists, homosexuals, and all the other "undesirables" that had been defined by the Nazi state. 

Today's saint, Maksymilian Maria Kolbe, found himself in Auschwitz. At the end of July 1941, ten prisoners disappeared from the camp, prompting SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Fritzsch, the deputy camp commander, to pick 10 men to be starved to death in an underground bunker to deter further escape attempts. When one of the selected men, Franciszek Gajowniczek, cried out, "My wife! My children!", Kolbe volunteered to take his place. Kolbe died 77 years ago today. Gajowniczek survived Auschwitz, and died in 1995. Kolbe's sacrifice purchase 50 years for that man, a stranger, and won himself a martyr's crown. 

Pope St John Paul II called Kolbe "the Patron Saint of our difficult (20th) century."
He is the Patron Saint of ham radio operators, drug addicts, political prisoners, families, journalists, prisoners, and the pro-life movement.  Here are more things to know about this extraordinary saint.

Although the Pro-life movement, political prisoners, Journalists, the family, and addictions all present us with important issues for our time (even in this century) it is his death in the course of a normal, virtuous act that highlights his importance for our time, for our difficult century.

In our day it is possible to deny the personhood of anyone who disagrees with any political point, socially or individually held. We no longer march them off to the concentration camps, for we are more advanced. We publicly shame them, we hound them from all pages of the internet, we use guilt by association, and arcane conspiracies to exclude them public life and even employment.

But we don't kill them.

I know of a construction company who refused a contract to a temp employee because the temp employee had a union logo on his Facebook page. I know women who feel they have to use male names on Twitter and other social media in order to be able to have opinions, to enter into arguments, etc, without being called crude names in ad feminem attacks. Pardon the neologism, it's totally needed here. People lose their jobs for "not sharing our company's values" nowadays.

Showing virtue in this world is risky. Especially since, as Catholics, we believe the definition of virtue is a static one, defined for all time in the death of Christ on Calvary. You cannot love in a better way, you cannot live in a better way, you cannot die in a better way, no better way than the truth, himself, can be practiced. But we must also be careful that we fall not into the same trap, for disagreeing with our teachings does not de-person you. For Christ died for humans as a class. And we must also be on the lookout for those who, claiming to be Catholics, confuse their partisan politics with the teachings of the Church. It's possible to be politically active and disagree on some things. It is not possible to be Catholic and belittle, make fun of, or de-person our political opponents - although it is certainly fashionable in this day to do so.

There were 6 Popes in my life time, but I have no memory of the first - St John XXIII - and the 3rd Pope - John Paul I - reigned for only 1 month. I am so very thankful for the other four! Paul VI, St John Paul II, Benedict XVI, and Francis. These last two who are there now, one with his seemingly cold academia, and the other with his bubbly grandfatherly qualities, can seem like Abbott and Costello, really. But from Humanae Vitae to Laudato Si, the teachings of the church have been brought solidly to bear on our culture and our missteps. And all the Popes have been excoriated - by Catholics and non-Catholics alike - for their rigid adherence to tradition and for daring to call out the modern world on our sins.

To live a life according to the Church's boundaries in this time and place is heroic virtue.

Yesterday we celebrated the Memorial of another set of Martyrs, and, oddly, sort of, another pair of Popes. Saint Pontian, was made Pope in AD 231. One of his predecessors, Pope St Callistus, was perceived to be too liberal. His detractors elected a better Pope, a priest named Hippolytus, the latter being more conservative. Both Hippolytus and Pontian were sent to work in the mines, and eventually died, but not before being reconciled. This virtue of disagreement and yet reconciling is what makes them a good model for us: we need only to know that we are required to love all and to lay down our lives for those whom we love. These two things, only. And all else will be fine.

It is fitting that St Maximilian, who was in life so devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, should die today, which is the Vigil of her entrance into heaven. We shall talk more of that tomorrow, but (spoiler alert) her body and soul are in heaven now, united. The first of child of Adam and Eve to enjoy in that way the fruit of Baptismal Grace in the Heavenly Kingdom. And as her Assumption is the living embodiment of our promised Resurrection, St Maximilian finds his own death, on the vigil of her death, to be the gateway to everlasting life.

12 August 2018

In which I came out as Antivax


The Readings for the 19th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Nonne hic est Jesus filius Joseph, cujus nos novimus patrem et matrem? quomodo ergo dicit hic : Quia de caelo descendi?
Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How then saith he, I came down from heaven? 

Every spring breeze carried a reason or a rumour. Jesus seems to have been surrounded, even in Jerusalem, by folks who thought they knew him very well. I imagine it was a small community of folks from up in Galilee and also some folks in Jerusalem. Of course everyone was talking about him - as they had been about John the Baptist. Every spring breeze carried a reason or a rumour. And the more folks talked, the more there was speculation about who he is. And so there would be the folks who snoop out the truth. He comes from Nazareth. He's a carpenter. He's not trained as a teacher. A reason or a rumour...

And so, of course, outside of his intimate circle, there grew up another image of Jesus, one that wasn't quite so flattering. Just a few verses earlier Jesus was saying, "You don't care what I teach, you just want more miracles..." 

2,000 years later it's pretty much the same. Everyone knows who Jesus is. Don't bother us.

He's a pro-America libertarian cultural warrior to people on the right.
He's a hippie peacenik to people on the left.
He's a protofeminist.
He's a hyper masculine boxer of demons.
He's a mythic retelling of Pan.
He's a failed revolutionary whose body was fed to the dogs.
He's a teacher with nothing original to say.
He's a mystic who traveled to India and learned wisdom, and brought it back westward. 
He's irrelevant to all of these groups when he steps out of their bounds.
Every spring breeze carries a reason or a rumor.

Sadly, each group includes a goodly number of folks who claim to be Christians of every shade and flavor who have serve out their tiny, boxed up Jesus to the world as an inoculation to protect them from meeting the real thing.

I know reasonably good people who are so convinced that Jesus looked and acted just like them that they can't understand how 2,000 years of Christians could get it wrong. Or, maybe, they have a theory about Paul taking Jesus' revolution and running it into the ground, or Constantine overpowering the church - as if "yes" could destroy what 300 years of "no" only made stronger. Most just seem to say, "Everyone was wrong until Pastor XYZ finally understood it" or "Until General Convention elected a woman as Presiding Bishop" or "Until the Jesus Seminar". They're on a quest for a Jesus that won't threaten them with annihilation of self, that won't demand virtues from them (or that will only demand virtues they have recently invented). The Blind guides of the blind, as Jesus calls them.

And there are those who will give Jesus in such small doses, with no context, with no depth, that folks develop an immunity to Jesus anyway. If you only hear about (the very right and orthodox) love of Jesus, with no discussion of his anger, no discussion of his hatred of sin, no discussion of his desire to change a sinner into a saint, then the love of Jesus is just another vaccine. It's a vaccine equally as effective as those who only preach hell-fire and fear.

So, you ask, how can I know?

Is it possible in a world filled with all these anti-Jesus vaccines, to get exposed to the real Jesus, finally? Is it possible to find Jesus despite all the fakes? Or, won't just anyone be pointing me in their own pre-made direction? When every spring breeze carries a reason or a rumour, how can I find Jesus?

Asking is the first step: admitting you don't know, or that the folks you follow may be on the wrong path, admitting there is a wrong path at all, admitting the possibility that you could be wrong about Jesus is as important as his truth. 

For the first step is humility.

Jesus gives us his own flesh as food. He says so. He doesn't say aa symbol, he doesn't say a sign, or a warm memory. He says "my flesh is bread".

Chew on that for a while...

And you become divine.

The vaccine will make you far, far less than you can or should be. It'll make you dead.


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10 August 2018

Meanwhile, on the Gridiron.


The Readings for the Feast of St Laurence
Qui amat animam suam, perdet eam; et qui odit animam suam in hoc mundo, in vitam aeternam custodit eam.
Ὁ φιλῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἀπολλύει αὐτήν · καὶ ὁ μισῶν τὴν ψυχὴν αὐτοῦ ἐν τῷ κόσμῳ τούτῳ εἰς ζωὴν αἰώνιον φυλάξει αὐτήν .
He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

This is one of those places where English loses out to both Greek and Latin. Both of these languages have (at least) two words for "life" and the writers of the scriptures use them to mean different things. I've set them in bold in the verse above. 

Animam (Latin)  corresponds to the Greek ψυχὴν psyche and it means that common life we all have no matter who or what we are: the driving force that humanity shares with bovinity, broccolinity, and also amoebinity. Or, as Douglas Adams put it in Restaurant at the End of the Universe, "all lifekind". Anything made of carbon (and maybe a few other elements) that we describe as "alive" is this.

Vitam in Latin, on the other hand, is the Greek ζωὴν zoe. This is what Humanity shares with all the other Spiritual creatures. For a human is a Spirit/Flesh hybrid. We are not only living matter, as are animals, nor are we only spiritual beings, as are demons, angles, etc. We are flesh and blood. And we are Spirit.  We have choices to make regarding our Vitam and our Animam on a daily, or literally moment-by-moment basis.

It's to be noted that the choice of "love" in English corresponds with φιλῶν philio in Greek, that sort of love we think of as friendship. God, in John's Gospel, loves the world with agape or a divine charity. We can do the same thing. But friendship with the world is an entirely different thing all together. A friend, says Solomon in the book of Proverbs, loves at all times. That level of loyalty to the world is what we're not supposed to be doing.

The gridiron has been an important religious symbol since the third century. Today's Saint is the patron of my former Monastery. St Laurence is known for two things: his snarky martyrdom, and his use of the treasures of the church in what, today, would be called embezzlement. 

When the elders of the Roman Church saw a persecution looming up on the horizon, they entrusted all the wealth to Laurence, a young deacon of the church, and urged him to safeguard it. But he knew the Gospel story. So when he was arrested he promised he would turn over the whole thing... and they sent him home to get his booty - which he promptly delivered into the hands of the poor as was his job. So he gave away everything that was in the church's possession and returned to his jailers. He said the treasure would be delivered in the morning. And when all the poor of the city showed up on the doorstep, he said, These poor are the treasure of Christ's church.

Even Church gold can be friendship with the world. And we must always be mindful of the sin of mammonolatry.

So Laurence was arrested and condemned to death for loving Christ's treasures too much and the world's too little. We'll get to what that has to do with football in a minute.

Thomas Aquinas gathered these Christian elders into a Rabbinical sort of conversation on this passage:

Chrysostom. He loves his life in this world, who indulges its inordinate desires; he hates it, who resists them. It is not, who doth not yield to, but, who hates. For as we cannot bear to hear the voice or see the face of them whom we hate; so when the soul invites us to things contrary to God, we should turn her away from them with all our might. 

Theophylact. It were harsh to say that a man should hate his soul; so He adds, in this world: i.e. for a particular time, not forever. And we shall gain in the end by so doing: shall keep it to life eternal. 

Augustine. But think not for an instant, that by hating your soul, is meant that you may kill yourself. For wicked and perverse men have sometimes so mistaken it, and have burnt and strangled themselves, thrown themselves from precipices, and in other ways put an end to themselves. This did not Christ teach; nay, when the devil tempted Him to cast Himself down, He said, Get you hence, Satan. But when no other choice is given you; when the persecutor threatens death, and you must either disobey God’s law, or depart out of this life, then hate your life in this world, that you may keep it to life eternal. 

Chrysostom. This present life is sweet to them who are given up to it. But he who looks heavenwards, and sees what good things are there, soon despises this life. When the better life appears, the worse is despised. This is Christ’s meaning, when He says, If any man serve Me, let him follow Me, i.e. imitate Me, both in My death, and life. For he who serves, should follow him whom he serves. 

Augustine. But what is it to serve Christ? The very words explain. They serve Christ who seek not their own things, but the things of Jesus Christ, i.e. who follow Him, walk in His, not their own v ways, do all good works for Christ’s sake, not only works of mercy to men’s bodies, but all others, till at length they fulfill that great work of love, and lay down their lives for the brethren. But what fruit, what reward? you ask. The next words tell you: And where I am, there shall also My servant be. Love Him for His own sake, and think it a rich reward for your service, to be with Him. 

Chrysostom. So then death will be followed by resurrection. Where I am, He says; for Christ was in heaven before His resurrection. Thither let us ascend in heart and in mind.

Aquinas: If any man serve Me, him will My Father honor. This must be understood as an explanation of the preceding. There also shall My servant be. For what greater honor can an adopted Son receive than to he where the Only Son is? 

Chrysostom. He says, My Father will honor him, not, I will honor him; because they had not yet proper notions of His nature, and thought Him inferior to the Father. 

A friend yields to the desires of his friend. A friend supports his friend in all actions. A friend will be loyal to the death. But yet might only on rare occasions correct or even chide. A friend is known by the company he keeps, really. And, to value one's psyche over and above one's Zoe is to cave in, far to many times, to the things of the world.

I find myself smiling when I see a priest using a smartphone to read his office or to navigate a litany without a book. But I had a coworker once who lost his job for using smartphones and tablets in the way one might in these latter days. And that same problem was mine in the monastery. So I worry, too. What else happens with phones pulled out in Mass? So, that, I think, is the line for friendship with the world - not the smartphone, but the misuses of it. And so pull that image out into an analogy. I know folks who pray before voting and who abstain from some races while voting in others - all to take part in the political process as they feel is their religious duty. But I know others who cave in on all issues in the name of a political defeat of "the enemy", saying it is more important to get electoral victory than to hold on to their faith. In which case friendship with the world seems to have taken over.

That's where we cross the line - or at least where I do. I find that it's really easy to write the posts even nightly for a fortnight. And then still find myself caving in to concupiscence. Friendship with the world becomes addiction. 

And we must begin, again, to say "We acknowledged that we were powerless over our friendship with the world and our lives had become unmanageable." 

Today, as schools return to session, many folks will be looking forward to games played on the gridiron. In some places, even clergy will get into the act, trying to be "cool" and "relevant" in their friendship with the world, seemingly unaware that anything that keeps their flock away from the altar on Sunday is the force of evil. Full stop. Anything at all that would be good, clean fun in most times, once it begins to override our connection with the Lord at Mass, is evil. And lest one think I am speaking only of our pornographic obsessions with team sports, I know a good few folks who get upset when the service takes them in to "overtime" as defined by the pot roast in the slow-cooker at home. 

We must learn to say, with St Laurence, that even the world's worst actions are not as bad as losing our Zoe, our common life with God.  Tied to a large iron grid, and roasted over a flame... he rather famously said, "I'm done on that side. Turn me over."

I want to imagine it said with a smile that angered his torturers and moved his friends to tears.

And so should we all be able to say if we've come to believe that a power higher than ourselves can restore us to sanity. God's zoe is all that we need. It puts absolutely everything else in its proper place. Even football. Or that thing Americans play with the pointy ball.

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08 August 2018

Food for the Dogs...


The Readings for the Feast of St Dominic
Wednesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Non est bonum sumere panem filiorum, et mittere canibus.
It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. 

It's a long standing bit of church-geeky wordplay that takes St Dominic's name and turns his friars into Domine Canes the Dogs of the Lord. Yet they come by it honest, for before he was born, his mother the Blessed Jane of Aza, had a vision of a dog carrying a torch as it ran through a field, catching all things on fire. A Benedictine priest told her that her son would be a preacher, setting the world on fire for Christ.

Dominic's first and longest standing outreach was to the Albigensian heretics of Southern France. These were, essentially, a Manichean revival, teaching that physical things were bad. Physical here includes the body. Spirit trapped in a physical shell... this is a familiar teaching to many, but it is not Christianity. The Church teaches that humanity is a spirit-flesh hybrid, and that our physical selves are as important as our spiritual and mental makeup. This is why Christians believe in "carnis resurrectionem" and "resurrectionem mortuorum", that is the resurrection of the flesh from the dead. Since they believed the flesh to be evil, the Albigensians did not believe in the physical resurrection at all. Bringing the Gospel to these folks was a lifelong process for Dominic. 

So on to other word play. Matthew's Canaanite Woman.

It's important to know that at the time of this story there were no Canaanites because there hadn't been a Canaan for thousands of years.  It's as much of an anachronistic misnomer as is calling Jesus as "Palestinian" for there was no province of "Palestine" at this time. Matthew's well-trained Jewish audience would know who the Canaanites were and, since they spoke Greek, they would have enjoyed comparing the  woman as a κυνάρια, kynaree-a (canine) and a Χαναναία, a kananaia (Canaaanite).

Equally wrong would be calling Jesus a racist because of this story. (I suspect Fr Martin has already lined up his Jesuitical tweets in this regard.) The lack of actual Canaanites in this time period means there's more than an historical/literal point here. If Jesus is God he is setting up the scene, and everyone is falling into play: Jesus solicits a show of faith from the woman just as he does from others. At Matthew's telling, Jesus uses wordplay to force his audience to listen again. "Did he just say that?"

There are other cases of word play in Matthew's Gospel. I think they are important. Matthew's community is being taught something that is lost on us, perhaps because we no longer need it in our preaching. Or because we are easily offended.

Yet there is something here.

Jesus is reaching out to the Gentiles very early and using them as examples of faith. Matthew's community probably gets mildly scandalized here. Even more so when the Centurion's servant is described in terms of pederasty. Matthew seems to want his community to see there's nothing wrong with reaching out to the Gentiles who, in fact, can be better at this faith game than the Jews. And he uses word play to call them out.

So back to Dominic, whose Albigensian preaching became the first really good example of enculturating the Gospel. The preachers and teachers of the heretical movement were poor ascetics. The people could see in their leaders a holiness of life that they could not see in the wealthy Catholic prelates and even parish priests, with their huge carriages and houses and domestic staffs. Dominic knew that the first thing he'd have to have was a community of preachers whose lives reflected the poverty that these folks had come to expect of their religious leaders.

So the followers of Dominic became poor that they might reach the poor, and well educated to debate with the folks who were preaching the heresies. The dogs of the Lord begged for their bread crumbs and lived lives that the locals could see as holy.

They didn't become Albigensians, but they did find in the heresy something good, something of value that they could carry with them to bring the Gospel more fully home to these folks. It matters not that they have to give up worldly splendor and comforts to preach. In fact, as it turns out, that's one of the greatest goods of the Dominicans, their ability to move through the world unencumbered by the things of this world and although this is a clear teaching of the Gospel, they begin using it to combat its misuse among the Albigensian communities.

This is how the Gospel must be preached today: finding the good in things (even if it is misused) and calling it out to draw others deeper into the fullness of the Spirit.

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07 August 2018

Something about the Name.

Holy Name Altar, St Dominic's SF

The Readings for Tuesday in the 18th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)

Statimque Jesus locutus est eis, dicens : Habete fiduciam : ego sum, nolite timere.
At once Jesus spoke to them, "Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid."

Today, 7 August, is a feast no more among the Catholics of the Roman Rite as far as I know, but it holds a place in my heart. In England, today was at one time the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. This was a popular feast and there were altars and fetes, and society and guild meetings, fairs and all. 

Then Came Henry.
And Cramner
To destroy and ruin all that had been built.

But they could not destroy this devotion and so the English Church, even in her Babylonian captivity, kept this feast beyond king Nebuchadnezzar's death, beyond the fateful reigns of all his children and their children, this devotion held together with the memory of this feast. The 1662 BCP held this feast, the Anglo Catholics remembered in during that revival in the 19th Century, and held on to it. Nowadays, though, many folks just stick with 8 Days after Christmas.  Still this lovely feast in Early August...  It's not in the Roman calendar, but when I was Western Rite Orthodox it was on our calendar. And my monastery kept this feast as well. It's in our old OSB Breviary - copied from the C of E's attempt at an OSB Revivial in the great house of Nashdom - although the texts are not special for this day: they are just copied over from January.

And so this feast... what is it about the Name of Jesus? The devotion is not just Catholic. The Orthodox have it. Protestants have it. And it's nearly the same in all forms: just a meditation and mulling on the name, itself.

The heathens have this same sense as well, for not a one of them will ever curse in the name of Allah, nor any Sikh guru. No one will settle for a "God damn it" in a meeting when they can utter the all powerful name of Jesus in a blasphemy. Their piety is twisted, but they know. And they will say it even when they don't know a Christian is in the room. They're not doing it to offend or get a rise, they are making a powerful statement on purpose.

There's something about that name.

If you are of the Eastern Rite, you have a long form of devotion to the name, the reciting of the Jesus Prayer whilst using the prayer rope. In the west, the Litany of the Holy Name is a very good, daily practice. But there is another western devotion, dating back to the Henrican Reformation. Published in 1520, the Jesus Psalter was a very popular devotion.  

Best said on a Rosary, in my opinion, it begins with a ten-fold recitation of the Holy Name and some invocation:

Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, have mercy on me. (10x)
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, grant me grace to remember my death. (10x)
Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, give me grace to order my life to thee. (10x)
Et cetera.

It is divided into three sets of five decades each, and so it pairs well with the Rosary of Our Lady for daily recitation or for use as one long prayer at a Holy Hour. I find it very useful at a Latin Mass where I suspect it was used most. A full text is here, although there are a number of variants available. Some are in print, arranged for group recitation. Some few are in other places online. Using these invocations and images to meditate on the name of Jesus gives not only a more-full sense of what the English were on about, but also will expand your sense of what the Name of Jesus ("God Saves") is all about. Salvation does not mean "keep me out of hell" although that's a part of it, nor does it mean "Take me to heaven when I die". Salvation in the name of Jesus is an on-going, all-encompassing event.  It fills everything: filtering out fears, sorting through friends, navigating tough choices, making every knee bow, of things in Hell, things on Earth, and things in the Heavens.

This is why, in the end, the English Martyrs remembered this prayer as only one line:

Jesu, Jesu, Jesu, esto mihi Jesu
Jesus, Jesus Jesus, be to me Jesus. (That is, Salvation.)

So a blessed feast that was. And may the Holy Name fill you with joy.


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