21 June 2018

O Fellowship Divine


JMJ
The Readings for  in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Beati sunt qui te viderunt, 
et in amicitia tua decorati sunt.
Elias quidem in turbine tectus est
Blessed is he who shall have seen you 
And who falls asleep in your friendship.
O Elijah, enveloped in the whirlwind!

I've been feeling out this huge transition since becoming Catholic. Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church have devotions to saints, yes. But something feels different now, in the West. This is not a case of one does it right and the other wrong: but rather a difference in harmony on a common melody. This could also be my own experience in the East. I don't pretend to know it all, and staying in largely convert communities can affect one's journey. That said, allowing for difference of experience, it seems as if in the West there is more of a personal flavor to the cult of the saints. By this I mean only that one seems to have the personal experience of a friendship of certain saints and to relish it more than in the East.


Across the board, East and West, one can ask a saint to pray for an intention just as assuredly as one can ask one's spouse or folks on Twitter. But there is in the Roman Church a sense of "St So and So is my friend" in a way that I did not see in Orthodoxy. St So and So may also not be always around. Relationships with Saints seem to come and go. People have strong devotions for periods of time. And then they move on. Other devotions seem to last a good while. It's like the Saints are here to teach us something, as would a Godparent. One has a Patron of course, but something may happen to indicate things have evolved. One may learn to pray from one saint's writings, or to get through a tough patch by asking another saint for help. One may always find one saint coming to mind as the work day gets difficult, or as troubles heat up in a marriage. When these pass, another saint steps up.

The LXX text about the Friendship with Elijah actually uses the Greek "Agape" rather than "Phila". It uses a form of the verb to love that can be read either as "I love you, Elijah" or "Elijah, you love me". It's kind of neat that way. So the text says something more like "Blessed are they who share with you Agape." And that's important. The Saints are present to us because they are so advanced in their journey to Theosis, that God's love (agape) can allow them to be here with us. They are not omniscient or omnipresent. Thus, they are not always everywhere, but in God's timeless Agape it can seems like that to those of use trapped here in the realm of Space-Time. When I reach out to Blessed Stanley Rother, it's not because he's a magical unicorn that is always around, but rather because in God's love for me, he allows my relationship with Fr Rother to grow and continue in eternity.

This is the relationship we share in Christ with all who have gone before us - not just those official Saints, but even the Holy Souls in Purgatory who have died in Christ. The hymns "For all the Saints" and "The Church's One Foundation" make it poetically clear: the Church Militant enjoys full communion with her head on the Trinity's throne, and through him with the whole companies of the Church Expectant and the Church Triumphant. When we kneel before the elevated Holy Mysteries on the Altar, or in the monstrance, we are in the presence of all who do, will, or have enjoyed that Divine Presence on earth and continue to enjoy Him in His fullness  in Heaven.
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20 June 2018

Breaking up is Hard to Do.


JMJ
The Readings for Wednesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Attendite ne justitiam vestram faciatis coram hominibus, ut videamini ab eis : alioquin mercedem non habebitis apud Patrem vestrum qui in caelis est. 
"Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.  

The RSV says "your piety". The KJV says "your alms". The Greek word is δικαιοσύνη, dikaiosuné. It means justice, justness, righteousness. The Latin wins, here, I think. "Justitiam Vestram" which the Douay renders as "your Justice". In the Septuagint, the Bible familiar to Jesus and his followers, δικαιοσύνη is used for the Hebrew "Tzedek", the concept in Jewish religion, for someone who adheres to all the miztvot, who practices "justice" not in any way merely en vogue or culturally acceptable, but as decreed by God to be Just. Piety, as in the RSV, is part of it. Almsgiving is as well, but it includes keeping the Sabbath, keeping Kosher, wearing the right clothes, saying the right blessings at the right times, committing neither to'evah, nor sexual impurity, neither unjustly treating one's family, slaves, nor laborers. It's a complex conception that has nearly nothing to do with our concepts of "justice" now, which tend to be subjective and emotivist.

Jesus tells us not to do God's Tzedek, or the feminine form is Tzedekah, in front of folks. I'm nearly sure he doesn't mean "don't let folks see you". Rather he does mean, "don't do it just so folks can see you." He says if you do it so folks see you, you've had your reward.

I don't do my charity so that folks see me, but I have to tell the federal government how much I give each year so that I get my tax refunds... I think that qualifies as "I've gotten my reward already."  Then we turn our charity over the trumpeters.

The internet's awesome for teaching. It's great for entertainment. (I've posted so many music videos while tying this!) It's brilliant for charity and support. But most of us confuse "likes" with "being liked". Most of us confuse profiles for physicality - and I say this as a long time denizen of dating apps.  We march through the gnostic world of bytes and virtual dreamscapes forgetting that every avatar has a person behind it and many a nubile 19 year old is really a 53 year old balding dude with a basement apartment. And then there are the times I may not be a doctor, but I play one on the internet. To this world we go with our political actions, our righteous anger, our self-righteous indignation, our hated, and our echo-chambers of auto-adulation. (I've worked in it for 25 years, I'm allowed to know where I am.)

We've created a culture of performative virtue; moraltainment, if you will. It's not real, they say, unless there are pics. The pics have to be posted on Instabook and Tweetagrams, discussed on Slackouts and posted on YouBlog. We get our rewards in likes and shares, in retweets and embeds. We call it social media, but there's never anyone else paying attention. So it's sorta social; demented and sad... but social. In other words, not only has the Devil got us bragging about our virtues, but he's tricked us into bragging to no one at all.

When all is said and done, we have an addiction to it as well: not in the sense of a substance-based addiction, but rather in the ways we confuse a "like" on a website with actually being liked. We think a share means someone loves us. We think a dating profile is meeting someone. I have 300 friends on Facebook (but I have trouble getting 6 to come over for cards). We get our sense of validation, our sense of excitement from this virtual world.

When the war with Korea and China comes, I hope they get the internet first: that way we may have a chance. Otherwise we'll be filming the incoming missiles on our smart phones or taking selfies with the blast shadows. Truly we will already have our reward.



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19 June 2018

Even Ahab Repents


JMJ
The Readings for Tuesday in the 11th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Nonne vidisti humiliatum Achab coram me? quia igitur humiliatus est mei causa, non inducam malum in diebus ejus, sed in diebus filii sui inferam malum domui ejus. 
"Have you seen how Ahab has humbled himself before me? Because he has humbled himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son's days I will bring the evil upon his house." 

We have been reading the Story of Ahab for the last few days.  All this stuff about Elijah, Jezebel, and now Elisha, is all during the reign of King Ahab who was the Anointed of God, ruling in the Northern Kingdom of Israel c. 871 to c. 852 years before Christ. He was not a good guy. In fact, in the 16th chapter of the First Book of King (MT) or 3rd Kings (LXX)  we learn he was the worst.


He was the worst not just because people thought so: but rather because he was evil and led his own people astray.

Here are some other things we know about Ahab:
- 7th King of Israel
- Son of Omri
- His existence is supported by archaeological evidence outside of the biblical record.
- He was not Jewish - rather he was an ardent Ba'alist until the final period of his life.

During his reign he actively tried to get people to apostatize by use of bullying, murder, fear, and lies. His wife used whispering campaigns to support her husband. His friends were often at risk of instantly becoming his enemies. 

He was the worst of the kings, but he was the Anointed of God. In that respect the people prayed for him. There were sacrifices on his behalf in the Temple. God sent him prophets to correct him (even though he ignored them). God tries and fails over and over - because we are free - to win this man back to the good path and away from idolatry. And, as the king goes so goes the country. So there are many many folks who follow Ba'al simply because it's popular. The People follow him as Lawful King, his brother King, in Judah, treats him with respect, but ignores his theological errors.

When every attempt at reform fails, God finally tells him off face to face. And that works. But he's still done so much damage that he must pay for it all. A King is responsible for all the sins of his people following him. He sort of dies in battle, disguised out of cowardice as a regular soldier. He gets shot by an "unaimed arrow" and his blood is licked up by the dogs (MT) or by pigs (LXX). 

In the end, God protected his people from the King and from the needful sins of Regicide. 

Jesus says, Resist not evil. Turn the other cheek. Pray for your enemies. Bless those who curse you. And St James asks us elsewhere who are we - each of us sinners - to judge another servant? Who are we to be worse than God in showing mercy, in showing love? We are to act like God, giving even our political opponents every chance to move forward to their theosis, even at our own expense.

How different is this from our current political environment where we are governed by anger and a prideful rage so out of proportion as to be comedic. Our rage is out of proportion because we have lost the cultural sense that we are all equally fallen. We are each and every one sinners and, so, damned. We are each and every one a potential saint, but only if we all help each other (all of us) to get there.

So when the rightful authority is Ba'alist, and destroying the icon of God all around us, we should never abandon our god-given duties to build up that icon. But at the same time we are obligated to our own equally God-give function to save the icon amid the Rightful Authorities. It's a tight line to walk. Our Spiritual Enemies are the demons. We may have political opponents, but they are not our enemies. They are only the dupes of the demons as are we often enough - and as we will be if we let them trick us into judging folks for their political sins.






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17 June 2018

As you go, sow.


JMJ
The Readings for the 11th Sunday of Ordinary Time (B2)
Sic est regnum Dei, quemadmodum si homo jaciat sementem in terram, et dormiat, et exsurgat nocte et die, et semen germinet, et increscat dum nescit ille. Ultro enim terra fructificat, primum herbam, deinde spicam, deinde plenum frumentum in spica. 
The kingdom of God is as if a man should scatter seed upon the ground, and should sleep and rise night and day, and the seed should sprout and grow, he knows not how. The earth produces of itself, first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.  

The kingdom God (that is The Church) is like this: scattering seed everywhere and what grows... grows.

What does it mean to scatter seed? To mention these things at every possible point: not in a pushy way, but just direct. When you ask a coworker, "What are you doing this weekend?" The answer is, "Going to a movie" or "Spending time with friends" or maybe "Going on a Date". Do you respond with, "Going to Mass"? And, again, just in a casual, this is what's happening sort of way. You asked, here's what I'm doing.

I've told this story before: when I went to the Monastery, coworkers at my old job were like "I didn't even know he was religious." I totally wondered what I had been doing wrong. The seed was not sown. There were no blades springing up. In the end there was no harvest. But when I crossed myself for grace at lunch time, suddenly other started to do so as well. When you plant seeds, you do so "courageously," "by faith and not by sight" as St Paul says. 

We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land;
But it is fed and watered by God's almighty hand:
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.

Chorus All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.

We cooperate in this action, but the process is God's. It takes our courage and our faith to participate. And our humility. We have to relinquish control and the drive for success. Our job is to sow the seed - a constant and repetitive function; a necessary one but not one with a lot of reward and glory.

How will you scatter seed on the job, on the bus, on the freeway? How will you scatter seed on social media and on those cold calls you have to make for he office? How will you scatter seed as you shop, or as you walk through the park?

16 June 2018

The yoke's on Elisha...


JMJ
The Readings for Saturday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Cumque venisset Elias ad eum, misit pallium suum super illum qui statim relictis bobus cucurrit post Eliam.
 Eli'jah passed by him and cast his mantle upon him and [Elisha] left the oxen, and ran after Eli'jah. 

The call of Elisha is this strange thing, is it not? Elijah (who had been told a few verses earlier of this plan) simply walks up and tosses his poncho over a man ploughing with oxen and walks away. The man follows. It's a subtle sign. It works. But there's one more test: Elijah says "Go back. What have I done to you?" But Elisha knows and follows. Elijah is yoking Elisha with the call of God. This is the meaning of the action.

This comes after the previous scene where there's an Earthquake! and Fire! and a Wind Storm! and then a faint whispering sound. It's that last one that will make your hairs stand up: it was God. Drop a scarf on the guy... this you say is a call? 

How subtle are God's actions in our lives! 

The difference between the destruction of the Prophets of Ba'al and the call of the Prophet Elisha is astounding. God may decide to act, once in a while, in showy miracles. I tend to want showboat events: lightening flashes, or visions in dreams, handwriting on the wall, or audible conversations with Ghostly Presences, but God gives us a nudge, a whisper, a silent and persistent intention; a sense of something more. Those other things can often be distractions. I probably would have wanted to run out after the Earthquake or the Fire. I would have responded to the Big Show. God's got better things planned, though.

God wants better things for us, as well: don't swear, says Jesus, just say yes or no. A big show of words can be useful or it can be distracting, but it doesn't mean more. In fact, given the traditional spiritual counsel to silence, yes or no can be a lot of talking indeed.

A reminder from yesterday: it is the relationship that matters. Getting out, being social, joining in prayer with the community, fellowship with our sisters and brothers, and being the servant to each other. We strain ourselves to do big things, when all we need to do is love. We want to be the flash mob doing  a Mozart Mass in the mall when all we need is someone to lead the carol sing at the seniors' home. 

When God drops a mantle on you, are you tossing it off in a fit of fan dancing and showmanship, or do you say, let me kiss my folks goodbye? I love that Elisha kills his yoke of kine and feeds the neighbors. When God calls you away, he doesn't absolve you of your relationships. He improves them.

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15 June 2018

Is there someone else we can talk to?

JMJ
The Readings for Friday in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Audistis quia dictum est antiquis... Ego autem dico vobis...  
You have heard it said of old...  But I say to you... 

If you come to the New Testament looking for a relief from those pesky rules in the Old Testament, look no further than the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus, the God of all Love, makes his Father's rules even more strict. Not just don't do XYZ, but even don't imagine doing XYZ, or think about the things that could lead up to XYZ. And, as we learn later, don't do something that will draw or trip your sister or your brother into XYZ. Jesus is not much more lenient than the older stuff, in fact, he's worse.

If by worse you mean adding concern for motives to concern for actions.

A friend posted the other day that his priest told him he would do much better struggling against sin if he stopped thinking about rules he could or could not break and started thinking about relationships. Sin breaks relationships. Another friend, preaching last week, underscored that the Evil One's primary purpose is to isolate us, to break our relationships and to leave us feeling alone, isolated, and vulnerable. Sin is the easiest way to do that. Again, it's not breaking rules, per se, it's breaking relationships.

Jesus knows that actions may end relationships, but motives and intentions do so as well. We are stranded, alone in our heads. Thoughts and addictions that lead us to isolating behaviors are just as dangerous to our souls as are the actions themselves. 

George Carlin discusses this in Confession
'Cause that's what they taught us; it's what's in your mind that counts; your intentions, that's how we'll judge you. What you want to do. Mortal sin had to be a grievous offense, sufficient reflection and full consent of the will. Ya had'ta WANNA! In fact, WANNA was a sin all by itself. "Thou Shalt Not WANNA". If you woke up in the morning and said, "I'm going down to 42nd street and commit a mortal sin!" Save your car fare; you did it, man! Absolutely!
Jesus is mindful that once you have the wrong motives, even the right actions get corrupted: being sexually attracted to someone is a bad reason to befriend a stranger on Facebook or to invite a coworker out to lunch. It's a bad thing to base a purely platonic friendship on as well. Greed is a bad reason to get married. I've known people to leave parties "together" because it was August in New York City and one of the two had air conditioning. Putting down a bad foundation ruins the whole structure. Jesus is pointing out the foundation comes way earlier than we had previously imagined.

No one is saved alone: it is our relationships that bring us to heaven. If we  wanna, we damage the relationships in our hearts, we have already sinned. 

Jesus calls us to loving relationship with himself and with each other. This is a relationship based not on use, not on utility, but rather on intrinsic worth. We have to will the good of each other. We have to wanna.

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14 June 2018

Lord, it's hard to be humble.


JMJ
The Readings for  in the 10th Week of Ordinary Time (B2)
Si ergo offers munus tuum ad altare, et ibi recordatus fueris quia frater tuus habet aliquid adversum te : relinque ibi munus tuum ante altare, et vade prius reconciliari fratri tuo : et tunc veniens offeres munus tuum. 
So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. 

Jesus says not "if you hate someone" or "if you have a grudge" but rather "if your brother has anything against you." If Christians actually believed that, there would be no schism. Whomever forgives the most wins. "You can't leave me because I'm coming with you", said the Patriarch to the Pope (or the other way around), as they duked it out in an attempt to say "I'm wrong. You're right."  Each before the other.

This is our challenge - I am the only sinner I know. All others are Christ to me.

How far do we take this humility? Jesus says to our brothers. Clearly it's not an act of humility to say to a worshiper of Ba'al, "I'm wrong..." Jesus was not saying to his Jewish brethren that the Israelites should have stayed in Egypt.

But how can we be humble before others, those outside the faith? In fact, that humility is to be a hallmark of our presence. 

Imagine if you have met someone, gone on a few dates, and are thinking about "getting serious". How many dates do you go on before you mention that you go to Mass every day? Can you say you are "in a relationship" with someone who doesn't know that about you? Can you even be friends?

In today's world many folks just say, "Let me be silent." While it feels humble, it is an action of pride. It  is not loving: preaching out loud is not what I mean here. You are in relationship with these folks. God has placed them in your life. Keeping silent about your life is denying the relationship. Fear is pride: God doesn't know what he's asking of me in the modern world. I will keep silent because I know what is best. Humility is about growing that relationship, about deepening the love you share with those around you. Denying your full presence to your friends, to your coworkers, to the people around you is a breakdown of love. Retreating in silence is building a wall that, in the end, will only hinder their salvation and so, yours.

Your brother holds you silence against you. Leave your gift at the altar and repair your relationship.

So, how to be humble, to live honestly as Christians. Love requires risk. Think of Jesus washing feet. Think of Jesus silent in the Blessed Sacrament. This is our challenge, our walk. 

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